Sleeping on Sorrows? Why Staying Awake Might Be Better for Your Emotions

Sleeping on difficult decisions has long been touted as a solution, but it turns out that sleeping on negative feelings or emotions may not be the best course of action afterward. This is because sleep can lock in bad memories and emotions, ultimately making your feelings worse. So, it’s important to take the time to process feelings after an emotional upset, even if it means staying awake for a while despite being tired.

Reining in Emotions

Understanding your emotional health is essential for improving overall well-being. Excessive emotions can lead to poor physical health, as demonstrated in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theories. Your body is made up of energetic vibrations, and when you experience or think about negative things, your body’s energy shifts.

To understand this concept, think of a time when you felt content and compare that feeling to periods when you were anxious or upset. Negative experiences can create a cycle of unhealthy energy by triggering one another and altering how you view your current situation.

The Real Thing

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) found that even witnessing traumatic events can cause lasting emotional harm if those negative memories are dwelled upon before bed. In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, over 100 people were shown unsettling images and their immediate responses were recorded. These reactions were then compared to how participants felt about the images 12 hours later. Half of the respondents slept during the 12-hour break, while the other half did not.

Results showed that those who slept after seeing the images had a similarly strong reaction when they viewed them for the second time. In some cases, respondents even felt their negative emotions were amplified on the second viewing.

Don’t Close Your Eyes

On the other hand, those who stayed awake after exposure to the unsettling images had less severe reactions later on. In some cases, participants could barely recall whether they had previously seen some pictures from the study.

This suggests that it might be best to stay awake after something traumatic occurs, even if it’s just witnessing something upsetting in a movie or a book. Falling asleep while still focused on negative memories or emotions can worsen their impact on your well-being, warp your perspective, and lead to self-pity, self-doubt, or fear. Instead, consider switching your thoughts to something more positive before bed, such as a happy memory or an upcoming event you’re excited about.

Good Vibrations

When it comes to real-life emotional or psychological traumas, it’s crucial to change negative emotions or thoughts before attempting to sleep. One technique that may help is called reframing, which is used in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Essentially, reframing helps you change how you perceive difficult situations, making them less upsetting. The process involves identifying the problem, aligning your intentions with your behavior, and establishing a way forward by deciding to make a change for the better.

These steps are simple but powerful tools for overcoming emotional distress. However, in times of life-threatening trauma, they may be challenging to implement. In such cases, therapy and other behavioral-changing therapies may be helpful. The key is to make an effort to feel better before your head hits the pillow.


Investing in emotional well-being is vital to overall health. Although it’s not always easy, making an effort to change negative thoughts before sleeping can help improve your quality of life. Remember to take the time to process emotions after a challenging day and focus on positive experiences when you’re ready to rest. Your mind and body will thank you for it.