Friday Factoids: Sleep and Brain Functioning

A Monday catch-up factoid!


We all recognize the importance of sleep, but there is emerging evidence that describes a causal relationship between sleep and emotional brain function (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).  The literature indicates that sleep abnormalities are involved in nearly all mood and anxiety disorders.  For example, as in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is diminished and disrupted. Goldstein and Walker (2014) propose that after a traumatic experience, REM sleep helps to decouple emotion from memory, and if this is not achieved, the process will be repeated in subsequent nights.  What is experienced is a hallmark symptom of PTSD, nightmares.


Further, Major Depression is associated with exaggerated REM sleep, which includes faster entrance into REM sleep, increased intensity of REM, and longer duration of REM sleep (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).  With this underlying disruption of REM sleep, individuals with Major Depression are noted to experience next-day blunting due to excess amounts of REM sleep, which alters PFC-amygdala sensitivity and specificity to emotional stimuli (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).


Overall, without sleep, the regulation and expression of emotions is compromised (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).¬† Goldstein and Walker (2014) argue that REM sleep provides a restoration of ‚Äúappropriate next-day emotional reactivity and salience discrimination‚ÄĚ (p. 702).¬† Consequently, emotional responsiveness, sleep, and consistent REM sleep promote the processing of emotional memories.¬† REM sleep provides not only a therapeutic depotentiation of emotion from affective experiences, but also provides a re-calibration that restores emotional sensitivity and specificity.¬† Thus, rather than being a symptom of a psychiatric disorders, the relationship between sleep and psychiatric disorders is now considered to be more causal and bidirectional (Krystal, 2012).¬† In short, given this intimate and causal relationship highlights the importance of assessing for sleep disturbance, as well as informing intervention.


Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2014). The role of sleep in emotional brain function. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10, 679-708.


Krystal, A. D. (2012). Psychiatric disorders and sleep. Neurologic Clinics, 30(4), 1389-1413.


Dannie S. Harris, M.A., M.A., M.A.Ed., Ed.S.
Psychology Practicum Student

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