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The Wrong Kind Of Sleep Could Keep You From Dwelling On Bad Memories

Poor Night’s Sleep

It isn’t uncommon to have a poor night’s sleep once in a while. There are nights that you just cannot seem to shut your brain off when you go to bed. As you are trying to fall asleep, your mind is racing, and you can’t fall asleep. Having a bad night’s sleep once in a while isn’t really a big deal. You go through the day a bit tired, but you make up for it by going to bed earlier the next night.

Psychiatric Disorders

While one poor night’s sleep isn’t an issue for most of us, if you have a psychiatric disorder such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, the aftermath of a poor night’s sleep can be severe. A study was published in Current Biology suggests that certain types of inadequate sleep can be worse than getting no sleep at all. The study involved unusual smells, bad karaoke, and an MRI. The study was trying to prove that the wrong kind of sleep could keep you dwelling on bad memories.

Eus van Someren

Eus Van Someren is a neuroscientist at the Netherland’s National Institute for Neuroscience. In a previous study, he and his colleagues had shown a connection between REM sleep and vivid dreams. They also tested the ability to recover from emotional distress. During the new study, they used 30 test subjects to describe the nature of the link.

Creating Emotional Distress

Emotional distress isn’t something that you can turn on and turn off. To put the subjects in a state of emotional distress, they had to create it. First, they had the participants sing a slow, difficult to sing, karaoke song while wearing headphones. They turned the music up very loud so that the subjects couldn’t hear their own singing. Most of the subjects sang out of tune and offbeat. The researchers put the subjects in an MRI machine and had them listen to the embarrassing tape. Because smell and memory are linked, they introduced a particular scent into the machine while the subjects were in the MRI machine. When they performed the test, a specific part of the brain lit up, which showed them that the subjects were embarrassed and in emotional distress.

Sleep Lab

That night, the subjects spent the night in a sleep lab so that the researchers could monitor their brain activity during the night. They also wafted the trigger smells into the room during the night. The next morning, the subjects had to go back to the MRI and listen to themselves sing badly again.

REM Sleep

The subjects who had REM sleep for up to 20 minutes at a time were less embarrassed than they were the day before. In real life, this is comparable to when something upsetting happens, and you feel better after a good night’s sleep. The subjects who had fragmented sleep, the way that people with depression, anxiety, and PTSD often do, found that they were even more embarrassed hearing themselves sing than they were the day before.

Control Subject

As with any study, they needed to have a control subject. This person didn’t have any psychiatric issues, and the subject was a good singer. They also used a different odor for the control subject. They didn’t have any problem sleeping at night and felt rested and happy when they woke up.

Locus Coeruleus

There is a part of the brain called the locus coeruleus. While you are sleeping, this part of the brain is active, and it releases noradrenaline, which is basically adrenaline for the brain. This part of the brain remains active during all periods of sleep, except for REM sleep. In people who have fragmented REM sleep, such as people with psychiatric disorders, this part of the brain never turns off. This means that your dreams are colored by the rush of noradrenaline, which keeps the embarrassing memory fresh, as though it just happened. This causes bad feelings when you wake up in the morning, and throughout the day.

Better Sleep

The best way to prevent having bad feelings when you wake up in the morning is to get a good night’s sleep. REM sleep can almost zero out the bad feelings that you had the day before. This is why, for many people, it is easy to get up in the morning after having a bad day. Those who don’t have at least 20 minutes of REM sleep will wake up in the morning feeling just as bad as they did the day before. This makes for a long, difficult day.


The best way to prevent this from happening is to get a good night’s sleep. There are plenty of ways to do this. You can sleep in a dark, quiet room. You can meditate before going to bed. Also, sleep aids can help. This study is proof of how important a good night’s sleep actually is. It also proves how resilient your mind is that you can get over something mildly traumatic after a good night’s sleep.

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