Public Release: 13-Dec-2016
Sleep helps process traumatic experiences
University of Zurich
Does sleep help process stress and trauma? Or does it actually intensify emotional reactions and memories of the event? This previously unanswered question is highly relevant for the prevention of trauma-related disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How extremely distressing experiences are processed right at the outset can influence the further course and development of posttraumatic stress disorders. PTSD patients experience highly emotional and distressing memories or even flashbacks where they feel as if they are experiencing their trauma all over again. Sleep could play a key role in processing what they have suffered.
"Our results reveal that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake," explains first author Birgit Kleim from the Department of Experimental Psychopathology and Psychotherapy at the University of Zurich. "This supports the assumption that sleep may have a protective effect in the aftermath of traumatic experiences."
On the one hand, sleep can help weaken emotions connected to an existing memory, such as fear caused by traumatic experiences, for instance. On the other hand, it also helps contextualize the recollections, process them informationally and store these memories. However, this process presumably takes several nights.