Emotion self-regulation relies both on cognitive and behavioral strategies implemented to modulate the subjective experience and/or the behavioral expression of a given emotion. Although it is known that a network encompassing fronto-cingulate and parietal brain areas is engaged during successful emotion regulation, the functional mechanisms underlying failures in emotion suppression (ES) are still unclear. In order to investigate this issue, we analyzed video and high-density EEG recordings of 20 healthy adult participants during an ES and a free expression task performed on two consecutive days. Changes in facial expression during ES, but not free expression, were preceded by local increases in sleep-like activity (1–4 Hz) in brain areas responsible for emotional suppression, including bilateral anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex, and in right middle/inferior frontal gyrus (p < .05, corrected). Moreover, shorter sleep duration the night before the ES experiment correlated with the number of behavioral errors (p = .03) and tended to be associated with higher frontal sleep-like activity during ES failures (p = .09). These results indicate that local sleep-like activity may represent the cause of ES failures in humans and may offer a functional explanation for previous observations linking lack of sleep, changes in frontal activity, and emotional dysregulation.

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