Sleep helps us get a handle on our emotions by activating the amygdala, the brain’s emotional core.
Research has shown that sleep helps us process emotions. Sleep plays a key role in making sense of information based on experiences from the day. Therefore, getting enough sleep is critical for preserving memories. Emotional memories are unique because of the way they trigger the amygdala, according to a BBC story.
“Amygdala activation is what allows your wedding day and the funeral of your parents to be a day better remembered, more than just any other day of work,” says Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist focusing on sleep at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The amygdala marks these memories as special, so that during sleep they are processed for longer and repeated more than everyday memories. The outcome is that these significant memories can be recalled in the future.
By processing a memory in a certain way, sleep transforms the power of the memory itself, says another expert who specializes in emotion and sleep at the University of Tubingen.
Sleeping also helps us control our emotional response to events.
In an experiment, two groups of children were involved, with one group made to sleep and the other kept awake after showing negative and neutral images.
The children who slept were better able to control their emotional responses to stimuli.
There are, however, different types of sleep. Rapid-Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is deep sleep, is associated with emotional memories.
But Spencer believes that non-REM sleep also plays a role in memory processing. Slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the first phase of sleep that accumulates memories, and is especially beneficial in processing neutral memories.
Researchers say even one night’s sleep or even a nap can help us reap the benefits of memory processing and emotional regulation.
Image credit: University of Tubingen