How Sleep Affects The Memory Consolidation Of Negative Emotions

By Minnow Blythe, Parent Herald December 03, 04:00 am

The importance of not going to sleep angry has just been scientifically backed up. A new study in China claims that people will most likely forever remember the negative memories after sleeping on it. It is better to resolve the problem or cope with a bad incident than sleeping it away.

The research led by Yunzhe Liu from Beijing Normal University focused on the relationship of sleep with memory consolidation of negative emotions. Memory consolidation is the process where the brain reorganizes the memory and decides whether to store it long-term or short-term. Memory consolidation happens while the person is sleeping.

The Chinese researchers conducted a test where seventy-three male college students were asked to suppress negative memories. The male college students who participated were trained to remember twenty-six pairs of images consisting of a neutral face and a negative image. 

The seventy-three male college students were then tested to check how well they remember the associated negative image to the neutral face. After a short break, the participants were shown the neutral face and was asked to actively forget the corresponding negative image.

The test was repeated for two days with the male college students getting a good night's sleep in between. The researchers found out that after a good night's sleep, the participants had a harder time trying to forget the negative memories.

Through functional MRI scans of the brain, the study was able to show that after the short break where the male college students were asked to actively forget the negative memory, the process of memory suppression moved from the hippocampus. The hippocampus is where the brain temporarily stores memories.

In another brain scan, it shows that memory suppression moved to the neocortex region of the brain. In other words, after a good night's sleep, the negative memory is harder to forget as it has moved to the part of the brain where memories are stored permanently.

The researchers from Beijing Normal University says their findings are similar to the results regarding memory consolidation on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) patients. The result of the study claims that during memory consolidation, the emotional part of the memory is split from the information regarding the memory.

If during sleeping the process of memory consolidation is affected, this will lead to the emotional part of the memory to be permanently stored. It means that instead of forgetting the emotion regarding a negative memory, the emotion will just be embedded more deeply in the brain making it harder to forget.

The researchers are advising everyone not to go to sleep while feeling strong negative emotions. It is much better if you resolve that emotion first or cope with the negative memory rather than sleeping it away. 

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