Press release Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience

Insomniacs unable to get emotional distress off their mind

26 April 2019

Cringe-worthy mistakes and embarrassing blunders made today won’t seem so bad tomorrow. That is, unless you’re an insomniac, research at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience shows. The scientists 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 posttraumatic stress. The findings were published on 25 April in the leading scientific journal Brain.

Maladaptive sleep

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. 'Sayings like ‘sleeping on it’ to ‘get things off your mind’ reflect our nocturnal digestion of daytime experiences. 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. In fact, their restless nights can even make them feel worse' says first author Rick Wassing.

Read more

Read the full article on the website of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience

Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience

The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience is an Academy research institute. It conducts basic and strategic research in the neurosciences. It examines how the human brain makes awareness, perception, movement, learning, social interaction and other cognitive functions possible. It also studies how brain disorders can disrupt these functions.

The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience is located in Amsterdam (Meibergdreef 47, 1105 BA Amsterdam).

Logo Nederlands Herseninstituut