Sleep preserves physiological arousal in emotional memory

Jennifer E. Ashton, Marcus O. Harrington, Anna Á. Váli Guttesen, Anika K. Smith, Scott A. Cairney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Traumatic experiences are associated with increased emotional arousal. Overnight consolidation strengthens the episodic content of emotional memories, but it is still unclear how sleep influences the associated arousal response. To investigate this question, we compared the effects of sleep and wake on psychophysiological and subjective reactivity during emotional memory retrieval. Participants provided affective ratings for negative and neutral images while heart rate deceleration (HRD) and skin conductance responses (SCRs) were monitored. Following a 12-hour delay of sleep or wakefulness, participants completed an image recognition task where HRD, SCRs and affective ratings were recorded again. HRD responses to previously-encoded (“old”) negative images were preserved after sleep but diminished after wakefulness. No between-group difference in HRD was observed for novel negative images at recognition, indicating that the effects of sleep for old images were not driven by a generalised overnight increase in visceral activity, or circadian factors. No significant effects of sleep were observed for SCRs or subjective ratings. Our data suggest that cardiac arousal experienced at the time of encoding is sensitive to plasticity-promoting processes during sleep in a similar manner to episodic aspects of emotional memory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5966
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2019

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