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Sleep may help consumers process emotions, study finds

The findings may help improve some mental health treatments

Woman sleeping in bed
Photo (c) Maiwolf Photography - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Bern explored how sleep can affect consumers’ mental health and well-being. The findings suggest that our brains can make negative emotions less intense while we sleep while improving the storage of positive emotions.

“Our goal was to understand the underlying mechanism and the functions of such a surprising phenomenon,” said researcher Antoine Adamantidis. 

What does our brain do during sleep?

The researchers conducted their study on mice to better understand what happens in the brain during sleep and how it affects our emotions. The mice were first exposed to different sounds – some that they linked with danger and others they linked with safety. The team then analyzed brain scans of the mice while they slept and while they were awake to see how the different emotions were processed. 

The study showed that neurons in the prefrontal cortex go through a decoupling process during REM sleep. This allows the brain to identify the difference between positive and negative emotions, or in this case, safety versus danger. 

However, this process also affects how the brain processes the different emotions. The researchers learned that the brain wants to help protect itself from feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions while improving the storage process of positive emotions. 

The team explained that this process is important when thinking about mental health. When consumers are unable to differentiate between positive and negative emotions, it may make them more susceptible to anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The team hopes these findings can help leverage the benefits of sleep in mental health treatment. 

“We hope that our findings will not only be of interest to the patients, but also to the broad public,” said Adamantidis. 

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