Sleep architecture and sleep-related mentation in securely and insecurely attached people

Patrick McNamara, Edward F. Pace-Schott, Patricia Johnson, Erica Harris, Sanford Auerbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Based on REM sleep's brain activation patterns and its participation in consolidation of emotional memories, we tested the hypothesis that measures of REM sleep architecture and REM sleep-related mentation would be associated with attachment orientation. After a habituation night in a sleep lab, a convenience sample of 64 healthy volunteers were awakened 10 minutes into a REM sleep episode and 10 minutes into a control NREM sleep episode in counterbalanced order, then asked to report a dream and to rate themselves and a significant other on a list of trait adjectives. Relative to participants classified as having secure attachment orientations, participants classified as anxious took less time to enter REM sleep and had a higher frequency of REM dreams with aggression and self-denigrating themes. There were no significant differences across attachment groups in other measures of sleep architecture or in post REMsleep awakening ratings on PANAS subscales reflecting mood and alertness. Selected aspects of REM sleep architecture and mentation appeared to be associated with attachment orientation. We suggest that REM sleep plays a role in processing experiences and emotions related to attachment, and that certain features of sleep and dreaming reflect attachment orientations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-154
Number of pages14
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIMH Grant no. 5R21MH076916-02 (P.M.). The project described was supported by CTSA Grant Number 1UL1RR025771 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institute of Health (NIH). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NCRR or NIH. We would also like to thank Deirdre McLaren for scoring dreams.


  • Attachment status
  • Dreams
  • Mood
  • NREM sleep
  • REM latency
  • REM sleep


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