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Sleep Patterns Can Protect from and Predict Emotional Vulnerability


Sleep has long been known to be closely associated with emotion. Dreams are tied to emotional states, and many theorize that dream content is based on emotional reactions during waking hours and, in particular, negative emotions such as fear, worry, and anxiety. Sleep patterns are also common predictors and symptoms of affective problems, such as depression and posttraumatic stress (PTSD). In fact, insomnia and fatigue are both unique characteristics of various types of psychological issues.

Although these associations have been validated in volumes of research, there is still much to learn about the relationship between sleep and emotion. In an attempt to explore this mystery further, Lucia M. Talamini of the Department of Psychology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands recently led a study that looked at how exposure to negative stimuli affected emotional reaction and sleep patterns in a sample of 32 adults with no history of specific psychological problems.

The participants watched a neutral or negative film clip and were then monitored for rapid eye movement (REM) and sleep latency throughout the night. Using EEGs, Talamini assessed the emotional experience the participants had during sleep and how it affected their sleep patterns. She found that there were two unique emotional/sleep responses. One group responded moderately to the negative emotional stimuli and had an increased slow wave sleep (SWS) proportion while the other group had more extreme responses to the negative film and decreased REM sleep.

Talamini believes that these findings show that emotional response can have a positive and negative effect on sleep, thus protecting from or promoting risk for mood problems. The first group saw better overall sleep with increases in SWS. Therefore, Talamini theorized that the moderate emotional reaction to the stimuli could be linked to sleep in a unidirectional or bidirectional way that acts as a buffer. In contrast, the extreme emotional response in the second group was clearly linked to poorer REM sleep and therefore, regardless of the direction of the relationship, can be seen collectively as a risk for mood issues. Talamini said, “Our combined findings have implications for affective disorders, such as PTSD and depression.” Future work might attempt to extend these findings in order to more fully understand the relationship between sleep, emotional disturbance, and mood problems.

Talamini, L.M., Bringmann, L.F., de Boer, M., Hofman, W.F. (2013). Sleeping worries away or worrying away sleep? Physiological evidence on sleep-emotion interactions. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62480. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062480

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  • TUDOR May 6th, 2013 at 9:30 PM #1

    Oh I have known this longer than anybody else…stress and worry not only lower the sleep quality for me but can lead to nightmares that are best forgotten…emotional states have a big effect in sleep and there is no doubting that…wish I knew better ways to manage my emotional state so I could have a good night s sleep even when under stress.

  • Rena May 7th, 2013 at 3:23 AM #2

    I don’t think that many of us have realized until very very recently just how much a role sleep has in our overall general health and well- being.

    The more I read the more I am determined to establish better sleep patterns for myself and my whole family!
    Seems it is a little more critical than we have given it credit for.

  • angie greene May 7th, 2013 at 11:35 AM #3

    This is why it drives me so crazy when I see parents who are not instilling good sleep habits in their kids.
    they let them stay up all hours of the night, never get them on a schedule, and then they wonder why they are having behavioral problems or why they are not performing their best in school.
    It’s because they are not being given the tools that they need to do all of that by losing out on the sleep that they need.

  • howell May 7th, 2013 at 12:31 PM #4

    wonderful how our waking hours feelings and thoughts have an effect on how well we sleep and what we dream about.and that in turn has an effect on how we feel in our waking hours.sounds like a difficult thing to handle but one fix and everything falls into place!lack of sleep is one thing I cannot do without and luckily I have almost always had great sleep quality and minus any anxiety.

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