Should you sleep after emotional trauma?

In a November 2011 study by a world expert in sleep and learning (Matthew Walker), young healthy adults viewed emotional images, either slept or did not sleep, and reviewed the images.  Those who slept before re-viewing reported less emotional discomfort when re-viewing.   Michael Breus PhD, “The Sleep Doctor,” discussed this study and concluded, “So remember, as I always say, it is truly better to ‘Sleep on it’ to feel better.”  

However, a new study suggests that staying awake after traumatic events may provide greater peace.  This study followed a very similar protocol to the first: pictures->sleep or now sleep🡪re-view of pictures.  These subjects reported more intense emotional responses to re-viewing negative stimuli after sleep.

So, sleep science cannot yet answer the question, “In the short-term, should I sleep after emotional trauma?”  Over the long-term, insomnia produced by emotional trauma may perpetuate depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  So, over the long-term, seeing a physician to address such insomnia may improve related conditions.

However, there is consensus, along with a body of literature extending over decades, that sleep contributes to memory consolidation.  So, if you’re a student and want to remember what you’ve studied, “Sleep on it.”