Impact of REM sleep on distortions of self-concept, mood and memory in depressed/anxious participants

Patrick McNamara, Sanford Auerbach, Patricia Johnson, Erica Harris, Gheorghe Doros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Introduction: We tested the hypothesis that REM sleep contributes to core features of cognitive dysfunction of anxious depression including negative self-appraisals, biased memory processing and unpleasant dream content. Methods: After a habituation night in a sleep lab, a convenience sample of 35 healthy college students and 20 depressed/anxious students were awakened 10 min into a REM sleep episode and then 10 min into a NREM sleep episode. Awakenings were counterbalanced to control circadian effects. After each awakening participants reported a dream and then completed memory recall, mood and self-appraisal tasks. Results: Self-appraisals of depressed/anxious participants were significantly less positive and significantly more negative after awakenings from REM sleep vs NREM sleep. Appraisal of the REM sleep dream self was negative for depressed/anxious subjects only. Recall of negative memories was significantly more frequent after REM vs NREM sleep awakenings for both depress/anxious and healthy participants. REM sleep dreams were associated with greater frequencies of negative emotion, greater aggression and victimization rates than dreams in NREM sleep for depressed/anxious participants. Limitations: Depressed/anxious participants were classified as such on the basis of mood scales rather than clinical interview. All participants were drawn from a volunteer college student population and thus our results may not be applicable to some elderly clinical populations. Conclusions: REM appears to facilitate cognitive distortions of anxious depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-207
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported in part by NIMH Federal grant no. 1R21MH076916-01A2 to the first author. NIMH had no involvement in the design, collection of data, analysis of data, and the writing or publishing works related to this data. This project was also supported by Clinical Translational Science Institute Award, grant no. 1UL1RR025771.


  • Anxiety
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Depression
  • Dreams
  • Mood
  • NREM sleep
  • REM sleep


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