Emerging evidence suggests that emotion and affect modulate the relation between sleep and cognition. In the present study, we investigated the role of rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep in mood regulation and memory consolidation for sad stories. In a counterbalanced design, participants (n = 24) listened to either a neutral or a sad story during two sessions, spaced one week apart. After listening to the story, half of the participants had a short (45 min) morning nap. The other half had a long (90 min) morning nap, richer in REM and N2 sleep. Story recall, mood evolution and changes in emotional response to the re-exposure to the story were assessed after the nap. Although recall performance was similar for sad and neutral stories irrespective of nap duration, sleep measures were correlated with recall performance in the sad story condition only. After the long nap, REM sleep density positively correlated with retrieval performance, while re-exposure to the sad story led to diminished mood and increased skin conductance levels. Our results suggest that REM sleep may not only be associated with the consolidation of intrinsically sad material, but also enhances mood reactivity, at least on the short term.
Keywords: affect; electrodermal activity; emotion; memory; rapid eye movement; sleep; sleep spindles.