Research: Sleep mechanism enables brain to consolidate emotional memory

Sleep researchers from University of California campuses in Riverside and San Diego have identified the sleep mechanism that enables the brain to consolidate emotional memory and found that a popular prescription sleep aid heightens the recollection of and response to negative memories.

Their findings have implications for individuals suffering from insomnia related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders who are prescribed zolpidem (Ambien) to help them sleep.

The study — "Pharmacologically Increasing Sleep Spindles Enhances Recognition for Negative and High-arousal Memories" — appears in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. It was funded by a National Institutes of Health career award to Sara C. Mednick, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside, of $651,999 over five years.

Mednick and UC San Diego psychologists Erik J. Kaestner and John T. Wixted determined that a sleep feature known as sleep spindles — bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during a specific stage of sleep — are important for emotional memory.

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News Medical