Scientific Evidence Confirms We Should Never Go to Sleep Angry

Zarmeen Shahzad
Posted Nov 30, 2016
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‘Never go to bed angry’ is something we have often heard of but many, including me, dismissed this as a cliché statement that had little meaning. A recent research suggests that these are actually wise words to live by as sleep combines the bad memories, making them stronger and hence making us live them for longer. Studies have shown that sleep plays a vital role in consolidating memories and helping us process them. Apparently the same holds true for negative emotions and thoughts, as well. If we fall asleep with them, it becomes more difficult to forget them in the long run.

Sleep experiments and results

Researcher Yunzhe Liu, who conducted the study at Beijing Normal University in China, told AFP, “study suggests that there is certain merit in this age-old advice: ‘Do not go to bed angry. We would suggest to first resolve (an) argument before bed.” For this study, Liu and his team recruited 73 male college students to test how they could intentionally suppress negative memories and how sleep impacted the process. During the research, all participants were required to associate neutral faces with images like injured people, crying children, mutilated bodies, etc. After a full night’s sleep, the contestants were shown the same neutral faces again and were asked to recall the negative associations from the night before or suppress the associations using a psychological technique called ‘Think/No-Think’.

So what is this technique? Well, basically as part of this procedure, the participants are asked to ‘think’ of something as they recall a circumstance – in this case, the associations between the faces and negative images. On the other hand, they are then asked not to think of something and in this situation, the contestants consciously try to avoid thinking about certain circumstances. Another session like this was carried out but this time with different faces and different negative images and the think/no-think session was conducted only for 30 minutes as opposed to the 24 hours later in the previous session. This was done to observe whether reconciling bad memories earlier had any effect on how contestants retained or stuck to an event. So what was the result of all this? The results showed that suppression was better in the 30 minutes later session than in the one when participants slept on it. This suggested that a night’s sleep made the memories stronger and made them harder to forget.

Another session like this was carried out but this time with different faces and different negative images, and the think/no-think session was conducted only after 30 minutes as opposed to the 24 hours in the previous session. This was done to observe whether reconciling bad memories earlier had any effect on how contestants retained or stuck to an event. So what was the result of all this? The results showed that suppression was better in the 30 minutes later session than in the one when participants slept on it. This suggested that a night’s sleep made the memories stronger and made them harder to forget.

fMRI results

Brain scans with fMRI machines showed what was happening during these sessions. In the 30 minute session, the participants’ neural activity was centered in the hippocampus region of the brain that is associated with memory. In the 24-hour later session, it was observed that the neural activity was reduced in the hippocampus and the activity had been dispersed to other regions of the brain as well including the lateral parietal cortex, angular gyrus, and middle temporal gyrus. According to the

According to the researchers, once the hippocampus has encoded these memories in the short-term memory part of the brain, the activities or memories get distributed to parts associated with longterm memory storage. “Overnight consolidation makes aversive memory more resistant to suppression by promoting hippocampal-neocortical reorganization of the memory,” Liu said.

Limitations

The study has limitations as the sample size was small and only men were considered in the research. It is also possible that this could have been the result of more time having passed rather than due to sleep alone. However, the findings can help in the better treatment of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. Neuroscientist Christoph Nissen from the University of Freiburg in Germany, who was not involved with the study, told New Scientist, “The results are of major interest for treating the frequent clinical problem of unwanted memories, memories of traumatic events being the most prominent example.”

Suppression may not help in deal with emotionally traumatic events but the research could help develop reconsolidation techniques where old memories can be modified to form better memories. “For example, sleep deprivation immediately after traumatic experiences may prevent traumatic memories from being consolidated into

Suppression may not help deal with emotionally traumatic events but the research could help develop reconsolidation techniques where old memories can be modified to form better memories. “For example, sleep deprivation immediately after traumatic experiences may prevent traumatic memories from being consolidated into stabilised representations and thus provide the opportunity to block the formation of traumatic memories,” the researchers write in their paper.

Until we get more information we should all follow Liu’s advice, “We suggest that people try to get a bad memory out of their minds as soon as they can. Not to think about it too much and especially not to sleep on it.”

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