Researchers at the University of Bern and the University Hospital Bern explored how sleep helps to process emotions. This study is published in the journal Science.
REM Sleep Regulates Emotions
Rapid eye movement (REM) or paradoxical sleep is a stage of sleep associated with dreaming, relaxed skeletal muscles, erratic and irregular breathing patterns, and bursts of rapid eye movements.
The researchers conditioned mice to recognize auditory stimuli associated with safety or danger. Then, they recorded their brain activity during sleep-wake cycles.
The results showed that the brain process emotions and memories significantly during REM sleep, thanks to a bi-directional neural process.
In REM sleep, our brains experience an outburst of emotions and memories. However, even if the dendrites of neurons remain active, their cell bodies or somas fall silent during this stage. This is called “somatodendritic decoupling”, a process that temporarily separates these two cellular components that consolidate emotions related to safety and danger.
Therefore, even though the distinction between the safety and danger signals is maintained in the dendrites, acting out such strong emotions is optimized by the somas. Because of this, our positive emotions get reinforced and consolidated into memories; on the other hand, strongly negative or traumatic emotions are weakened.
Sleep Helps To Process Emotions
The researchers explained that this somatodendritic decoupling is important for the survival of animals. In the words of one of the lead researchers, Mattia Aime, “If this discrimination is missing in humans and excessive fear reactions are generated”, humans are left vulnerable to maladaptive processing of negative emotions and traumatic memories. This causes them to develop mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression, anxiety, anhedonia, etc.
The study highlights the importance of sleep in mental health. The researchers are enthusiastic that the study can enrich sleep research and sleep medicine by opening up new perspectives for therapeutic targets and treatment methods.
To Know More You May Refer To
Aime, M., Calcini, N., Borsa, M., Campelo, T., Rusterholz, T., Sattin, A., Fellin, T., & Adamantidis, A. (2022). Paradoxical somatodendritic decoupling supports cortical plasticity during REM sleep. Science (New York, N.Y.), 376(6594), 724–730. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abk2734