Don’t sleep on it, when it comes to coping with traumatic events.
That’s the surprising recommendation from researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who found people who went to sleep shortly after experiencing traumatic or negative events were more likely to hold onto negative memories than those who stayed awake longer.
The UMass study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 106 young adults who were shown a series of images, ranging from negative to neutral in tone and asked to rate their emotional responses.
Dr. Rebecca Spencer, assistant professor of psychology at UMass Amherst , and her colleagues showed the images to participants at night right just before going to sleep or in the morning, so they would remain awake for a long period of time after seeing the pictures. Twelve hours later, participants were asked how they felt about the images they had seen earlier.
Researchers found those who had gone to sleep shortly after seeing the images were more likely to retain the memory of them and have a stronger emotional reaction to them. The finding, they concluded, could offer insight into the best ways to treat people who have experienced trauma.
“Sleep enhances memories, particularly emotional memories,” researchers wrote. “As such, it has been suggested that sleep deprivation may reduce post-traumatic stress disorder.”