Science confirms: Don’t go to sleep angry

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“Don’t let the sun set on your anger”

The old anecdotal saying that you should never go to sleep angry just got backed up by science, thanks to UMass Amherst neuroscientists. Their study concludes that if you have a negative emotional response—their examples were for viewing an unsettling picture or experiencing a traumatic event—the response is reduced if you stay awake afterwards. If you go to sleep immediately, the response is “protected,” meaning that when you are exposed to the effect again, your negative response will be just as negative as the first time.

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Sleep preserves and enhances unpleasant emotional memories

UMass Amherst neuroscientists Rebecca Spencer, Bengi Baran and colleagues say this response could make sense from an evolutionary point of view, because it would provide survival value to our ancestors by preserving very negative emotions and memories of life-threatening situations and a strong to incentive to avoid similar occasions in the future.

“Today, our findings have significance for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, or those asked to give eye-witness testimony in court cases,” Spencer says.

“We found that if you see something disturbing, let’s say an accident scene, and then you have a flashback or you’re asked to look at a picture of the same scene later, your emotional response is greatly reduced, that is you’ll find the scene far less upsetting, if you stayed awake after the original event than if you slept. It’s interesting to note that it is common to be sleep-deprived after witnessing a traumatic scene, almost as if your brain doesn’t want to sleep on it.” The study is reported in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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