More research has been done on sleep mechanisms than any other state-control processes of the brain. We now know the locations of the major circuits that control slow-wave sleep (SWS) as well as those periodic arousals that are full of vivid emotional dreams and rapid eye movements (REM sleep). We know much about the neurophysiological changes that reflect these natural tides of the brain and the major neurochemistries that control these passages of consciousness, but rather little about the adaptive functions of sleep stages at a scientific level.
However, several everyday observations are important to keep in mind. Sleep, in proper amounts, alleviates tiredness that builds up during waking. Sleep also knits up the raveled sleeve of care: If one goes to sleep with a troubled mind, difficult as it often is to get to sleep, one usually wakes feeling emotionally less burdened. Was it simply due to the passage of time and ensuing forgetfulness, or was there an active emotional restoration process proceeding under the cover of our daily doses of unconsciousness during SWS and/or altered consciousness during REM sleep? No one knows for sure, but the number of intriguing, psychiatrically relevant findings that are emerging demonstrates the importance of sleep in the homeostasis of both cognitive and affective aspects of mind. Indeed, the possibility that the moods that accompany dreams may be a useful way to monitor the deep emotional status of psychiatric patients needs to be more fully examined (Domhoff, 2002). The aim of this short summary is neither to describe the patterns of sleep and the neurobiology of sleep stages nor to reiterate once more the well-established neuroscience findings in the field (for that see Kryger et al., 2000). The goal is to briefly highlight the most psychiatrically relevant themes that relate to emotional issues and also to delve into the emotional homeostatic functions of sleep.
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