Sleep Disturbance In Critical Part Of Sleep Cycle Linked To Emotional Distress

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Disturbed sleep and the vicious circle that links it to chronic depression and anxiety.

A lack of REM sleep may raise the risk of chronic depression and anxiety, a new study finds.

REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is when we dream.

REM sleep occurs throughout the night as we cycle up and down into deep sleep.

Typically a person might have six periods of REM sleep in a night separated by an hour or less.

During REM sleep it may be that critical emotional memories are processed and resolved.

Mr Rick Wassing, who is the study’s lead author, said:

“Previous studies have pointed to REM sleep as the most likely candidate involved in the regulation of emotions.”

If sleep is disturbed during these critical periods, it could leave emotional memories unprocessed and unresolved.

The research was carried out on a group of people in the Netherlands.

Some simply completed a survey, while others were invited into the sleep lab.

Both studies found that when people’s REM sleep was disturbed, they had more trouble getting over emotional distress.

As distress built up, it was more difficult for people to sleep and so the vicious circle continued.

The study’s authors concluded:

“The present findings suggest that hyperarousal can result from an inadequate resolution of emotional distress, which, in turn, is likely due to restless rapid-eye-movement sleep.”

Mr Wassing said:

“The possible solution would be to stabilize REM sleep.

But, whether this is true and whether cognitive behavioral therapy might help is for subsequent research to find out.”

Dr Janis Anderson, a psychologist who commented on the study, said:

“Complex interrelationships between sleep and mood, including clinical mood problems such as major depression and bipolar disorder, are well-known.

This continues to be an important area for research, but also one in which speculative suggestions to patients can easily outpace the evidence.”

The study was published in the journal PNAS (Wassing et al., 2016).

Image credit: Simon Pais-Thomas

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Published: 18 February 2016

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