Cringe-worthy mistakes and embarrassing blunders happen to everyone, but it turns out that insomniacs are more likely to relive them over and over.
Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience asked participants to relive their most shameful experiences of decades ago while making MRI scans of their brain activity. While good sleepers literally settled those experiences in their head as neutralized memories, people with insomnia were not able to do so. This breakthrough finding suggests that insomnia could primarily be caused by a failing neutralization of emotional distress, which makes it understandable that insomnia is the primary risk factor for the development of disorders of mood, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
It is a well-known fact that sleep helps us to remember important experiences. But sleep is also essential for getting rid of the emotional distress that may have occurred during those experiences. Both these overnight processes involve changes in the connections between brain cells: some become stronger and consolidate memories, whereas others are weakened and get rid of unwanted associations. Brain research now shows that only good sleepers profit from sleep when it comes to shedding emotional tension. The process does not work well in people with insomnia.
The new findings show that causes of insomnia are probably rather found in brain circuits that regulate emotions. These circuits contain risk genes for insomnia and may not activate properly, as they normally do, during rapid eye movement sleep.
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