A sound sleep in the first 24 hours after suffering a trauma can help individuals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to process the horrific experiences, a study has found.
People with PTSD experience highly emotional and distressing memories or even flashbacks where they feel as if they were experiencing the trauma all over again.
Sleep could play a key role in processing what they have suffered.
“Our approach offers an important non-invasive alternative to the current attempts to erase traumatic memories or treat them with medication,” said lead author Birgit Kleim from the University of Zurich.
The findings showed that a good sleep can help weaken emotions connected to an existing memory, such as fear caused by traumatic experiences.
In addition, sleep also helps contextualise the recollections, processing them as information and storing the memories.
However, the process may take several nights, the researchers said.
“The use of sleep might prove to be a suitable and natural early prevention strategy,” Kleim added.
For the study, the researchers showed participants a traumatic video. The recurring memories of the images in the film that haunted the participants for a few days were recorded in detail in a diary.
Study participants were randomly assigned to two groups. One slept in the lab for a night after the video while their sleep was recorded via an electroencephalograph (EEG), the other group remained awake.
The results revealed that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake.
“This supports the assumption that sleep may have a protective effect in the aftermath of traumatic experiences,” Kleim said, in the study published in the journal Sleep.