A new study has found that restless REM sleep may contribute to mood disorders and anxiety. A team of Dutch investigators used functional MRI (fMRI) to scan the brains of participants who underwent a stressful experience,in this case, hearing themselves sing out of tune. Brain activity was measured using electroencephalography (EEG). The next morning, after spending the night in a sleep laboratory, participants were subjected to the same unpleasant experience. Those who had experienced REM (rapid eye movement) sleep were less distressed, whereas those with restless REM sleep were once again quite distressed.
REM is a deep stage of sleep, we reach this stage of sleep after about 90 minutes of falling asleep and can last up to an hour. We should undergo about 5 to 6 REM cycles a night. This is when most dreaming occurs and plays an important role in learning and memory function, since this is when your brain consolidates and processes information from the day before so that it can be stored in your long-term memory.
The amygdala is a set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. Shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system. The limbic system has been found to be responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. The amygdala initially activates during a distressing experience, but subsequent neuronal network reorganization facilitated by REM sleep inhibits the distress if the experience recurs. Restless REM sleep characterizes several psychiatric disorders, the authors note. The researchers assessed 29 adults who had insomnia that ranged widely in severity, from an absence of insomnia complaints to meeting criteria for insomnia disorder. Emotions most reported by participants after listening to their own out-of-tune singing of karaoke fragments were shame and embarrassment.When the out-of-tune singing was replayed the next day, participants with more REM sleep experienced less activation of the amygdala compared with those who had restless REM sleep. The restless REM group’s reactivity was actually increased.
Both restless REM sleep and a hyperactive amygdala are common in individuals with insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or an anxiety disorder. It affects no less than two thirds of people with a mental disorder. As reported by the study authors. The authors hypothesize that restless REM sleep may contribute to the fact that people with PTSD carry their traumatic experience to the next day, people with an anxiety disorder their greatest fears, people with depression their despair, and people with chronic insomnia their tension.
What does this mean for us? Pay attention to our sleep habits and make sure they are healthy. What is your current quality of sleep? What are you doing OR what should you be doing to improve your quality of sleep? Do you need help? We are here to offer whatever help we can to better your health.