Although we have heard that sleeping on a problem is the best way to resolve it, a new study points out that this may not always be true.
An important component of anxiety disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is the formulation of memories associated with fear.
Research has also shown that sleep plays a crucial role in the development of memories.
Therefore, researchers decided to find out if sleep deprivation after exposure to an aversive event might eliminate the associated fear, due to the lack of memory consolidation that would typically occur during sleep.
They evaluated healthy volunteers who were shown video clips of both safe driving and unexpected motor vehicle accidents. Half of the volunteers were then deprived of sleep while the other half received a normal night's sleep.
Results revealed that in sleep-deprived volunteers, memories associated with fear were not present anymore, suggesting a possible therapy for individuals with PTSD or other anxiety disorders.
"It would be nice if the benefits of sleep deprivation upon fear learning could be produced more easily for survivors of extreme stress," noted John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry and Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at Yale University.
Further research is necessary, but these findings indicate that sleep deprivation is a promising avenue for the possible treatment and prevention of PTSD.