Overnight emotional adaptation to negative stimuli is altered by REM sleep deprivation and is correlated with intervening dream emotions
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dreaming may be implicated in cross-night adaptation to emotionally negative events. To evaluate the impact of REM sleep deprivation (REMD) and the presence of dream emotions on a possible emotional adaptation (EA) function, 35 healthy subjects randomly assigned to REMD (n = 17; mean age 26.4 ± 4.3 years) and control (n = 18; mean age 23.7 ± 4.4 years) groups underwent a partial REMD and control nights in the laboratory, respectively. In the evening preceding and morning following REMD, subjects rated neutral and negative pictures on scales of valence and arousal and EA scores were calculated. Subjects also rated dream emotions using the same scales and a 10-item emotions list. REMD was relatively successful in decreasing REM% on the experimental night, although a mean split procedure was applied to better differentiate subjects high and low in REM%. High and low groups differed – but in a direction contrary to expectations. Subjects high in REMD% showed greater adaptation to negative pictures on arousal ratings than did those low in REMD% (P < 0.05), even after statistically controlling sleep efficiency and awakening times. Subjects above the median on EAvalence had less intense overall dream negativity (P < 0.005) and dream sadness (P < 0.004) than subjects below the median. A correlation between the emotional intensities of the morning dream and the morning picture ratings supports a possible emotional carry-over effect. REM sleep may enhance morning reactivity to negative emotional stimuli. Further, REM sleep and dreaming may be implicated in different dimensions of cross-night adaptation to negative emotions.