A lot is said and written about the importance of a regular good night’s sleep for all modern people. Unfortunately, very few of us can say that they benefit from a high quality and sufficient sleep every night. As a result, most of us suffer from impaired function of the immune system, increased risks for various infectious diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome and headaches, inability to focus and maximize our performance at the workplace, and many other negative symptoms. A great night’s sleep is a luxury for many of us, however, having regular restful sleep is something essential for our overall health. That is why we’re trying to solve our sleep problems and treat our sleep disorders with such ‘easy’ solutions like sleeping pills. Though it is believed that sleeping pills can help us relieve our stress linked to insomnia and induce sleep, actually the quality of such sleep is not good, and it will not bring to usual positive effects we expect from a good sleep.
According to the findings published recently in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, using sleeping pills can mess up our emotional life and is actually linked to seeing bad dreams. The scientists from UC San Diego conducted a series of experiments and analyzed the data they managed to collect, which have shown that using common over-the-counter sleeping pills is linked to consolidation of bad memories and seeing bad dreams. As it is underlined in the report about the study, the findings are especially true for those people who suffer from chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, excessive anxiety and other related causes of sleep problems. Moreover, the findings are also valid not only for the most popular over-the-counter sleep aids, but also for common prescription sleeping pills, including zolpidem ( Ambien) which is very often recommended by modern time’s doctors as an effective sleep aid.
The researchers focused their study around looking closely at the phenomena known as “bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during a specific stage of sleep“, and especially the importance of those for our emotional memory. Previous studies have shown that these bursts play a key role for selecting memories and other information from our short-term memory and storing the selected information in our long-term memory. This process takes place in the hippocampus, which is located in the cerebral cortex of the brain. However, the current study has shown that using Zolpidem and other sleeping pills interfere with the process making it considerably more active. Therefore, the effects of sleeping pills on our long-term memory can be possibly used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia like brain disorders, as well as those people who suffer from psychological disorders like schizophrenia, etc.
For the study, 28 volunteers, men and women aged between 18 and 39, free from any possible sleep disorder, were invited. They were given Zolpidem and placebo, with the intervals of a few days given in order to allow the chemicals evacuate from the participants’ systems. Both before going to sleep and after waking up, the participants were shown some images, which can evoke either positive or negative emotions. As a result, it became apparent that those participants who were given sleeping pills tend to remember rather negative images than positive. The same can be said about the images with arousing content: sleeping pills tended to increase the interest to those kind of images. “I was surprised by the specificity of the results, that the emotional memory improvement was specifically for the negative and high-arousal memories, and the ramifications of these results for people with anxiety disorders and PTSD,” one of the study leaders commented.