It’s true what they say: We should never go to bed angry. Not only will we likely suffer a night of restless slumber and wake up feeling groggy and incapable — not to mention unmotivated — to face the issue anew, but science says that going to bed upset can actually trigger a PTSD response.
In a study done by Nature Communications, it was found that our ability to subdue unwelcome emotional distress from negative memories is a critical part of our daily mental health. When we dwell on negative memories or relive stressful emotions, they become hardwired in our neurology, slowly fusing themselves to our brain functions on a day-to-day basis. The study refers to this as “consolidation,” stating that these memories become resistant to change.
You might be wondering what this has to do with sleep. Well, for starters, our brain regenerates cells while we sleep — that’s right, a restorative night’s rest isn’t just for beauty.
The sleeping brain has been studied and observed under MRI, showing that consolidated negative memories retain their emotional reactivity and become more resistant to healing. The study states that the subduing of these memories “involves higher prefrontal engagement, and less concomitant hippocampal and amygdala disengagement.” To put it in plain English, by processing our negative experiences and resolving them quickly, we allow them less time to brew and live rent-free in our heads, causing PTSD-like effects in similar future circumstances.
When we sleep, our brains reorganize the way we store our negative memories. Like a filing system, it can slip bad memories to the back, or the “not-urgent” folder, so that we can get on with our daily lives and focus on the present. However, when these memories are active in our minds before sleep, it can change the way our brains prioritize them, making them harder to store in the non-urgent folder.
This results in distress when similar arguments arise, making diplomatic discussions and problem-solving less and less accessible, while triggering PTSD-like effects. This may contribute to the reason couples feel like they are always having the same fight!
Because sleep plays a vital role in memory consolidation, it’s a great idea to resolve issues as best we can before catching z’s. Plus, we don’t want to frown all night long and wake up puffy and scowling! Getting our beauty sleep is inextricably linked to getting our happy sleep, and even if it pushes bedtime a little later, your brain — and your relationships — will thank you.