It’s the kind of age-old relationship advice that gets doled out by tipsy aunts at weddings: never go to bed angry. If you get into a fight with your partner late at night, so the prevailing wisdom goes, the worst thing you can do is get into bed snapping, “Don’t even try and touch me.” (“Ha,” they retort. “As if I’d want to.”)
Instead, you should stay up to hash out the problem – no matter how late it gets.
And now new research appears to back up the idea that it’s harder to move on from negative feelings after a good night’s sleep.
While we’re sleeping, the brain reorganises the way bad memories – such as an argument with a loved one – are stored, according a study published in the journal Nature Communication.
As a result, these negative associations are harder to suppress in future – so you’ll likely still be stewing over that argument the next day.
Conducted over two days, the study used a psychological technique called the “think/no think” task to test how successfully 73 male students suppressed memories.
The scientists found that men were less able to resist thinking about upsetting memories after they’d had a good night’s sleep, than if they tried to “not think” about them on the same day the memories were made.
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MRI scans revealed that “overnight memories” were distributed more evenly across the participants’ cerebral cortex than same-day memories. This suggests that it would be more difficult to “unpick” the overnight memories in future, according to the Guardian.
Neuroscientist Yunzhe Liu led the research at Beijing Normal University, and is now based at University College London.
“In our opinion, yes, there is certain merit in this age-old advice,” Liu told the Guardian. “We would suggest to first resolve arguments before going to bed; don’t sleep on your anger.”