In these troubling times it can be tempting to want to hide under your duvet and sleep the pain away, but what seems like escaping may be just the reverse.
According to a new study published in Nature Communications that found during sleep our memory in fact consolidates bad memories in our brain instead of suppressing them. Whilst we sleep our brain moves information from long term to short term memory, but what happens if you actively try to suppress events during the day?
As reported in New Scientist, researchers asked "73 male students to memorize 26 mugshots each paired with a disturbing image, such as a mutilated body, corpse or crying child. The next day they were asked to recall the images associated with half the mugshots and actively try to exclude memories of the rest of the associated images… The group were then directed to memorize another 26 pairs of mugshots and nasty images. Half an hour later they again thought about half the associated images and actively suppressed memories of the rest. Finally, they were asked to describe the image associated with each of the 52 mugshots. The idea was to see if trying to suppress a bad memory works better before or after sleep."
The students were unable to simply forget unpleasant images from the day before meaning it is likely that "sleeping on bad memories will counteract any effort you make to shake them loose."
The researchers also scanned their subjects' brains during the study, discovering that the act of consciously forgetting looked different before and after sleep. When participants focused on banishing the photos from their minds shortly after viewing them, most of the activity took place in the hippocampus, which handles memory. But "after a night's sleep, the task required activity in a much more diverse set of regions, including more evolutionary advanced 'thinking' parts of the brain."
In short, attempting to forget bad events with 40 winks will take considerably more brain power and probably won't work. Sorry.