- Unwanted thoughts and memories are experienced by everyone
- Some individuals have greater control over these thoughts and are able to suppress them
- Sufficient sleep may be crucial in controlling one’s thoughts
The ability to suppress unwanted thoughts and memories varies from person to person, with some being able to exercise greater control than others.
However, in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) the occurrence of unpleasant thoughts is more frequent, resulting in overall negative mood and irritability.
Many studies have investigated the role of sleep in memory retention and memory control. In an attempt to better understand the correlation between sleep and memory control, researchers from the University of New York and the University of Cambridge collaborated in a study.
The researchers suggested that the ability to control unwanted thoughts may be crucial to maintaining mental health and well-being, especially in individuals suffering from conditions like PTSD and MDD. The study was published in Clinical Psychological Science.
Participants in the study included 60 healthy (no history of neurological, psychiatric or sleep disorders) individuals who were divided into a “sleep group” (30) and a “sleep-deprivation group” (30).
According to the researchers, unpleasant thoughts and memories are often triggered when an individual is confronted with reminders. The study, therefore, involved showing the participants images that cued either a neutral emotional response or a negative response.
After being shown these cues, they completed either the sleep-deprivation session or the uninterrupted sleep session, and then they were shown the cues again, which served as reminders of the negative emotional responses. The two groups were then compared, based on their ability to suppress intrusive thoughts when confronted with these cues.
Sleep deprivation diminishes memory control
The study found that sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to suppress intrusive thoughts. Participants who were sleep-deprived reported having more intrusive thoughts when exposed to negative cues than those who were well-rested.
Researchers expressed: “[This demonstrates] that sleep deprivation impairs memory control.” They went on to say that sleep disturbance worsens symptoms in those who suffer from psychiatric conditions where intrusive thoughts are persistent.