Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Sleep affects declarative memory for emotional stimuli differently than it affects declarative memory for nonemotional stimuli. However, the interaction between specific sleep characteristics and emotional memory is not well understood. Recent studies on how sleep affects emotional memory have focused on rapid eye movement sleep (REM) but have not addressed non-REM sleep, particularly sleep spindles. This is despite the fact that sleep spindles are implicated in declarative memory as well as neural models of memory consolidation (e.g., hippocampal neural replay). Additionally, many studies examine a limited range of emotional stimuli and fail to disentangle differences in memory performance because of variance in valence and arousal. Here, we experimentally increase non-REM sleep features, sleep spindle density, and SWS, with pharmacological interventions using zolpidem (Ambien) and sodium oxybate (Xyrem) during daytime naps. We use a full spread of emotional stimuli to test all levels of valence and arousal. We find that increasing sleep spindle density increases memory discrimination (da) for highly arousing and negative stimuli without altering measures of bias (ca). These results indicate a broader role for sleep in the processing of emotional stimuli with differing effects based on arousal and valence, and they raise the possibility that sleep spindles causally facilitate emotional memory consolidation. These findings are discussed in terms of the known use of hypnotics in individuals with emotional mood disorders.