Typically we think of sleep deprivation as associated with a host of negative side-effects. Further, we view sleep as a healing process that allow stress reduction, refreshes and prepares us for future challenges.

New research published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry looks at the other side of the coin and finds that sleep deprivation may be helpful in keeping fear-based memories from forming.

The finding comes on the heels of recent research that has shown sleep plays a crucial role in consolidating memory.

However, not all memories are good memories.

An important component of anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is the formulation of memories associated with fear.

Therefore, researchers decided to evaluate whether 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.

Later testing sessions revealed that sleep deprivation eliminated the fear-associated memories through both fear recognition and physiological fear reactions, suggesting a possible therapy for individuals with PTSD or other anxiety disorders.

Dr. Kenichi Kuriyama, corresponding author of the study, explained: “Sleep deprivation after exposure to a traumatic event, whether intentional or not, may help prevent PTSD. Our findings may help to clarify the functional role of acute insomnia and to develop a prophylactic strategy of sleep restriction for prevention of PTSD.”

Further research is necessary, but these findings indicate that sleep deprivation is a promising avenue for the possible treatment and prevention of PTSD.

Source: Elsevier