Monday, May 7, 2012

Traumatic Memories, Emotional Reactions, and Sleep

Here is an interesting study printed in the January edition of the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers showed study subjects neutral and traumatic pictures and assessed their ability to remember them as well as the emotional responses. For one group, they showed the pictures shortly after they woke up and the other group saw them right before going to bed. The results showed that recognition of the pictures was greater when the pictures were shown right before sleep, demonstrating that sleep (particularly dream sleep) is helpful in laying down memories. But, the emotional reactions were less if they were shown the pictures right after getting up and not allowed to sleep. The emotional reaction was the same or even intensified in those that saw the images right before bed - and this was especially true in those that had more dream sleep. This implies that depriving oneself of sleep or at least not sleeping for 12 hours after witnessing a traumatic event could reduce the negative emotional reaction to the event. This could have clinical applications in how psychiatrists treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

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