Researchers discovered after conducting a series of experiments that sleep deprivation of approximately six hours immediately after a traumatic event reduces the development of PTSD behavioral responses.
As a result, sleep deprivation the first hours after stress exposure might represent a simple, yet effective, intervention for PTSD, the researchers say.
Approximately 20 percent of people exposed to a severe traumatic event, such as a car accident, terrorist attack or war, cannot normally carry on their lives.
They retain the memory of the event for many years, which causes difficulties in the person’s functioning in daily life and, in extreme cases, may render the individual completely dysfunctional, according to the researchers.
“Often those close to someone exposed to a traumatic event, including medical teams, seek to relieve the distress and assume that it would be best if they could rest and ‘sleep on it,’” said Hagit Cohen, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, who conducted the study with Joseph Zohar, M.D., of Tel Aviv University.
“Since memory is a significant component in the development of post-traumatic symptoms, we decided to examine the various effects of sleep deprivation immediately after exposure to trauma.”
In the experiments, rats that underwent sleep deprivation after exposure to trauma — being exposed to a predator scent — did not exhibit behavior later indicating memory of the event.
A control group of rats, however, that was allowed to sleep after the stress exposure did remember, as shown by their post-trauma-like behavior, the researchers say.
“As is the case for human populations exposed to severe stress, 15 to 20 percent of the animals develop long-term disruptions in their behavior,” said Cohen. “Our research method for this study is, we believe, a breakthrough in biomedical research.”
A pilot study in humans is currently being planned, he added.
The new study was published in the international scientific journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.