Sleeping helps us put our minds in order. A new study from the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich demonstrated that it can also help processing traumatic experiences. So much so that scientists believe sleeping can actually be the key to preventing posttraumatic stress disorders.
People, who experience some traumatic events often suffer from flashbacks, intrusive memories or dreams. They say it feels like they are going through the trauma all over again. Scientists think that sleep could actually help preventing posttraumatic stress disorders. Before they were not sure if it does not do the opposite, making memories consolidate and “stick” better. But a new study showed that good sleep in the first 24 hours after the traumatic event can actually help coping with the stress. It seems to be a very simple and a natural therapy, but how did scientists research this subject?
This study had some participants. They were invited into the lab, where they were showed some horrifying videos, evoking stress. Later they had to record reoccurring memories in the diaries they have been given. Although it looks counterintuitive this method is quite effective – test subjects would go about their day when memories of the video would come without a warning, making them relive seeing the traumatic images. However, this research was still safe, as memories of videos disappear quite quickly – participants could not develop any of posttraumatic stress disorders. One group of volunteers slept in the lab, while another remained awake.
People who could sleep relived much less of the traumatic memories. It means that sleep has somewhat of a protective effect, not allowing such negative memories to stick too well. On the other hand, sleep also reduces emotions related to the memory, so even if it does come back, it does not feel as traumatic. Birgit Kleim, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our approach offers an important non-invasive alternative to the current attempts to erase traumatic memories or treat them with medication. The use of sleep might prove to be a suitable and natural early prevention strategy”. However, sleeping on such a traumatic event is never easy, which means that some more research needs to be done.
Sleeping is an essential part of our life and it is tremendously important for our health. It helps our bodies to cope with the daily stress. Therefore, it is not surprising that it will help people to clean their minds a little after they suffered a traumatic event.