It is known that sleep helps us to remember important experiences.
But sleep is also important for us to get rid of the emotional distress from unhappy experiences.
In a study from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, researchers found that people who suffer from insomnia are unable to get emotional distress off their mind.
These people may be haunted by cringe-worthy mistakes and embarrassing blunders they made in the past.
The researchers believe that this type of thought may be a major cause of insomnia.
The study is published in the leading scientific journal Brain. The lead author is Rick Wassing.
In the study, the scientists asked people to relive their most shameful experiences of decades ago while scanning their brain activity with MRI.
They found that good sleepers literally settled those experiences in their head as neutralized memories. But people with insomnia were not able to do so.
This means only good sleepers can profit from sleep when it comes to shedding emotional tension.
The team says that in people with insomnia, the process does not work well and may even go worse.
The finding suggests insomnia could primarily be caused by a failing neutralization of emotional distress.
It may help explain why insomnia is the primary risk factor for the development of disorders of mood, anxiety, and PTSD.
According to the team, the cause of insomnia is probably 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.
Without the benefits of sound sleep, distressing events in the past continue to activate the emotional circuits of the brain as if they are happening right now.
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