Emotional memory can be defined as the memory of the emotions related to an specific event of our life. In case of negative events, this memory allows us to accommodate our conduct in order to avoid negative consequences in similar situations, which implies a capacity to analyze the situation and remember and be aware of our feelings related to it. It is well known that children with ADHD have alterations in the structure and function of the prefrontal cortex (which regulates our ability to plan and analyze our behavior), and also in brain structures linked with emotional processes such as the amygdala and the hippocampus (Plessen et al., 2006), which underlies their difficulties to cope with their emotions and behavior.
On the other hand, there is a growing literature studying the linkage between emotional memory lack in ADHD children and alterations in brain activity during sleep. For sleep disorder in children (Meltzer et al., 2010), the prevalence is 3.7%. The most-common diagnoses are enuresis and sleep-disordered breathing. ADHD is a predictor of sleep disorders.
Sleep disturbances are common in ADHD children (Cortese, Faraone, Konofal, & Lecendreux, 2009) and during sleep, new memory representations are reactivate during slow wave sleep SWS (sleep phase when our brain have the lowest activity rates) promoting memory consolidation. Studies show that ADHD children have abnormal SWS activity compared with healthy controls (Ringli et al., 2013), reflecting a neuromaturational delay of this brain wave rhythm in nonREM sleep. This imbalanced activity of slow waves is also associated with difficulties in consolidation of declarative memory (Prehn-Kristensen et al., 2011) which may explain difficulties to memorize facts and consequent learning problems related with ADHD.
In a recent study, the same author find that ADHD children have less activity in brain regions related to the consolidation of emotional memory (cited above), and suggest that these deficits are implicated in emotional symptoms reported by ADHD children during daytime (Prehn-Kristensen et al., 2013). ADHD children seem to have difficulties to select properly between emotional and non-emotional stimuli during sleep, which causes a diminished capacity to consolidate emotions related to events, which in turn, should have a direct impact on emotional relationships established with their peers.
Although more research is needed to strengthen the association between emotional memory and sleep, it is an important perspective because highlights the role of brain activity during sleep-time and allows us to better understand ADHD children not only in relation to their behavior, but also in relation to their emotions.
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Cortese, S., Faraone, S. V., Konofal, E., & Lecendreux, M. (2009). Sleep in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Meta-Analysis of Subjective and Objective Studies. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(9), 894-908. doi:10.1097/CHI.0b013e3181ac09c9
Plessen, K. J., Bansal, R., Zhu, H., Whiteman, R., Amat, J., Quackenbush, G. A., … Peterson, B. S. (2006). Hippocampus and Amygdala Morphology in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Archives of general psychiatry, 63(7), 795-807. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.63.7.795
Prehn-Kristensen, A., Göder, R., Fischer, J., Wilhelm, I., Seeck-Hirschner, M., Aldenhoff, J., & Baving, L. (2011). Reduced sleep-associated consolidation of declarative memory in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Sleep Medicine, 12(7), 672-679. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2010.10.010
Prehn-Kristensen, A., Munz, M., Molzow, I., Wilhelm, I., Wiesner, C. D., & Baving, L. (2013). Sleep Promotes Consolidation of Emotional Memory in Healthy Children but Not in Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. PLoS ONE, 8(5). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065098
Ringli, M., Souissi, S., Kurth, S., Brandeis, D., Jenni, O. G., & Huber, R. (2013). Topography of sleep slow wave activity in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Cortex, 49(1), 340-347. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2012.07.007
Meltzer, L. J., Johnson, C., Crosette, J., Ramos, M., & Mindell, J. A. (2010). Prevalence of diagnosed sleep disorders in pediatric primary care practices.Pediatrics, 125(6), e1410-e1418.