Sleep has been implicated in a number of research investigations as a process that engrains events, experiences, emotional reactions into a lasting memory. While asleep the brain works to replay activities of the day, processing them and filing them away in the long term memory.
When someone experiences a traumatic event, they may experiences symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) including trouble sleeping, flashbacks of the event, anxiety and emotional changes such as irritability and anger.
A research team at the University of Massachusetts have published the results of a new study in which they argue that altering sleep patterns after witnessing or experiencing a trauma can help reduce the emotional impact of it.
68 female and 38 male participants aged were shown a series of stress inducing and traumatic images to which they had to rate their emotional response. The participants had to do the same task again; half of the participants had a night’s sleep before the second viewing while the other half saw both sets of images in the same day.
The conclusions revealed that the participants who did not sleep between the two viewing sessions had a greatly reduced emotional reaction to seeing the traumatic images in the second session. Conversely, those participants who had slept between the sessions had a significantly greater negative impression of the images.
Current medical practices for PTSD include the prescription of sleeping pills, highlighting the problem that drug agencies promote the use of medication without first understanding the root cause of the symptoms of PTSD or explore more holistic and safe ways of treating the debilitating disorder such as mindfulness meditation.