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Traumatic experiences may be processed well with sleep

Harold Mandel's picture

Researchers have found that sleep helps to process experiences which are traumatic.


Traumatic experiences can be very costly due to the difficulties recovering. Drugs which target the human mind often have potentially very serious side effects which can make things even worse and so natural remedies for this problem are desirable.

Sleep assists in processing of traumatic experiences

The University of Zurich has reported that sleep assists in processing of traumatic experiences. Researchers say getting sleep within the first 24 hours after you experience a traumatic experience can help to more effectively pigeonhole and process the distressing memories.

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It therefore appears that sleep may be useful as a strategy for the early prevention of post-traumatic stress disorders. Patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder experience very emotional and distressing memories. Sometimes they also have flashbacks at which times they feel as if they are having the experience of their trauma again. Sleep may play a vital role in processing what these patients have suffered.

Researchers investigated whether or not sleep during the first 24 hours after a trauma has a positive impact on extremely emotional distress and memories which are associated with traumatic events. One group of participants in the study slept in the lab for a night after viewing a traumatic video. The sleep of these people was recorded via an electroencephalograph (EEG). The other group of participants remained awake.

People who slept after the seeing the traumatic film had less distressing recurring emotional memories

The results indicated that people who slept after the seeing the traumatic film did not have as many distressing recurring emotional memories and these memories were less distressing than what the participants who remained awake experienced. First author of the study, Birgit Kleim from the Department of Experimental Psychopathology and Psychotherapy at the University of Zurich, says this study has given support to the assumption that after traumatic experiences sleep may have a protective effect.

This study has been published in the journal SLEEP. In the study the sleep group of participants experienced fewer and less distressing intrusive trauma memories after viewing a traumatic video than the awake group. Sleep may very well serve as a natural alternative to help eliminate traumatic memories. Sleep may also offer an effective early prevention strategy for this problem.