Think about the last time that something frightening or unpleasant happened in your day. Maybe you had a near-miss with a car on the highway. Or perhaps you got into a shouting match with your boss at work. It happens to all of us at one point or another in life and often causes heightened levels of attentiveness and alertness that can be uncomfortable as it lingers long after the incident. Shaking off moments like these can be difficult, so how do we do it? Recent research suggests our Zzzs have a big part to play in this process.
Silence the siren
A 2019 study out of the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience shows that there’s a key to getting past some of life’s most unexpected and trying turns.
When we experience an unsettling event (a situation that causes us to feel frightened), a certain part of our brain (the amygdala) is activated, causing our brain to come to full attention. In order to better cope with these unpleasant events, this so-called ‘siren’ then needs to become less sensitive, and that’s where REM sleep comes in.
Through the study, participants were shown to be able to cope with the upsetting situations best when they got undisturbed REM sleep. Their brain circuits were actually able to adapt overnight, so in the morning when they were presented with the same upsetting situation as the day before, it did not affect them as much, likely due to the amygdala being much less responsive.
Deal with tomorrow even better than today
What does this mean? It turns out you’re better able to “bear tomorrow what you are distressed about today” after a night of quality REM sleep. So perhaps when you think about that fight with your boss from the day before, you will be able to deal with similar situations much better when a new day comes. It’s just another reason to get healthy rest each night.
Want to see how much REM sleep you’re getting?