Mental Health

Poor REM Sleep tied to higher risk of Anxiety, Depression, Study Reports

Cheri Cheng
February 09, 2016 10:34 AM EST

Getting good sleep every night can be very important for one's mental health.

According to a new study, people who get poor REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs, have a higher risk of suffering from insomnia, which can then increase their risk of developing chronic depression and anxiety.

For this research headed by Rick Wassing, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sleep and Cognition at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, the team of Dutch researchers set out to examine the link between REM sleep and the regulation of emotions in a two-part study.

The first part of the study involved a questionnaire about insomnia, nighttime thoughts, arousals and emotional distress, which was filled out by almost 1,200 participants who were a part of the Netherlands Sleep Registry. The participants' average age was 52.

In the second part of the study, the researchers recruited 19 women and 13 men with the average age of almost 36. Half of the sample suffered from insomnia and the other half did not. All of the participants took part in a two-night lab experiment in which their brains' electrical activity was monitored via electroencephalography during sleep. The tests allowed researchers to compare the quality of REM sleep between the participants. After sleep, the participants filled out a questionnaire about how they felt about their troubling nighttime thoughts.

Based on the data collected, the researchers concluded that people whose REM sleep was disrupted more often tended to have more difficulty dealing with emotional distress. As distress built up, feelings of arousal also increased, which made it more difficult for one to get a good night's rest.

The study's findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.