New research proves there is science behind an old adage. In fact, never going to sleep on an argument might be more important for a person’s health than it is for their relationship.
“In our opinion, yes, there is certain merit in this age-old advice,” said study’s co-author Yunzhe Liu to "The Guardian". “We would suggest to first resolve argument before going to bed; don’t sleep on your anger.”
The study, led by Liu at Beijing Normal University and published in "Nature Communications", suggests that during sleep the brain alters the way negative memories are stored, making it more difficult to suppress them in the future.
While bad memories can never be fully erased, science has shown that they can be voluntarily suppressed in order to cope with trauma. The failure to subdue negative memories is associated with psychiatric conditions, like depression and PTSD. Over time emotional memories become more difficult to stifle, leading to memory consolidation during sleep.
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The study was conducted over two days and used a psychological system called “Think/NoThink” (TNT) to evaluate how successfully 73 male students suppressed memories.
First the students learned associations between faces and aversive, unsettling images. In accordance with the TNT method, they were then re-shown the faces and asked to actively think or not think about the associated picture. When associations were learned 30 minutes prior to scanning, the participants were 9% less likely to recall the images that they had avoided thinking about, which means the suppression had been successful. For sessions led 24 hours after the initial association period (and after a full night’s sleep), they were only 3% less likely to remember the image.
While performing the TNT task, the students underwent functional MRI scanning. The brain scans revealed why it was easier for the students to remember the images after sleeping. Twenty-four hours after the preliminary learning, the neural circuits involved in memory suppression were largely spread throughout the cortex, the brain region linked to higher-brain function, like thought and action. Whereas, thirty minutes after, neural circuits were more active in the hippocampus, the region associated with learning and memory.
Knowing how brain changes effect memory suppression will give doctors a greater understanding of PTSD and other conditions that deal with negative memories, which will hopefully bring advances in the treatment for these and many other psychological disorders to fruition.
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