Advertisement

How does rapid eye movement (REM) sleep affect the processing of emotions?

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley examined the relationship between sleep abnormalities and the brain areas related to emotions. They discovered that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep processes emotional experiences, so that these experiences feel less painful, difficult, and emotionally charged after sleep.

Thirty-five adults participated in the study, all in good health. Researchers divided the participants into two groups. Both groups were shown the same series of 150 emotionally charged images, while researchers monitored brain activity with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Each group was shown the entire series of images two times, with a 12-hour break between viewings. One group saw the images first in the morning, and again in the afternoon, and they stayed awake during the 12-hour interim period. The other group saw the images for the first time in the evening, followed by a full night of sleep, during which their brain activity was monitored by electroencephalogram. Upon awakening, the second group was shown the images a second time. Researchers found that exposure to REM sleep had a dramatic effect on people's reaction to the images:
  • People who slept between seeing the emotional images reported a decrease in the intensity of their emotional reaction the second time, compared to those who did not sleep.
  • Brain scans during sleep showed that during REM sleep the brain's electrical activity slowed, essentially "soothing" the brain of stress.
  • MRI showed a significant decrease in the region of the brain that processes emotions. This decrease corresponded with an increase in activity of the brain's center for cognition, rational thought, and decision making.
Based on these results, it's as though REM sleep allows the brain to have some control of an emotional memory.

Continue Learning about Sleep Disorders

Want Sweet Dreams But Keep Having Nightmares?
Want Sweet Dreams But Keep Having Nightmares?
If being visited by Leonardo DiCaprio sounds appealing, you probably don’t imagine him as a terrifying thief in Inception who plucks secrets from the ...
Read More
What is Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS)?
Piedmont Heart InstitutePiedmont Heart Institute
Kleine-Levin syndrome is a rare disorder that primarily affects adolescent males (approximately 70 p...
More Answers
I Had Too Many Restless Nights—Until I Did This
I Had Too Many Restless Nights—Until I Did ThisI Had Too Many Restless Nights—Until I Did ThisI Had Too Many Restless Nights—Until I Did ThisI Had Too Many Restless Nights—Until I Did This
All I wanted was seven solid hours of sleep. And I actually got it.
Start Slideshow
Can a Lack of Adequate Sleep Harm My Health?
Can a Lack of Adequate Sleep Harm My Health?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.