Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Relieves Emotional Stress, Study Shows
Rapid eye movement sleep can alleviate emotional stress caused by past events, according to a UC Berkeley study.
According to The Daily Californian, the study, which was conducted over a period of one and a half years, is the first to systematically test the effects of sleep on both brain activity and behavioral reactions to emotional stress.
“It’s the first to look at REM sleep in such a sophisticated way,” Els van der Helm, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study, told the Californian in an email. “It aids therapies not only for (post-traumatic stress disorder) but also mood disorders.”
According to the study, REM sleep creates an ideal environment for the brain to process emotions because it reduces stress-inducing electrical activity patterns and activity of some neurotransmitters.
“We believe this unique brain state helps to put these emotional experiences ‘in perspective’ by integrating them with previous memories while ‘stripping away’ the emotional tone associated with them,” van der Helm also said in the email.
For the study, participants [35 healthy young adults] were shown emotion-invoking images twice, with a 12-hour interval in between. Participants who were allowed to sleep between the two viewings showed a significantly less intense reaction to the images the second time around compared to those who stayed awake.