Could Sleep Deprivation Be Helpful?

Study shows sleep deprivation may help those who suffer with PTSD.

Posted Jan 18, 2011

In a new study published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry, researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health in Tokyo were interested in the relationship between sleep deprivation and fear associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). PTSD is a serious disorder where, after some type of traumatic event (combat, natural disaster, abuse, etc) involving the threat of injury or death, the person can suffer from a debilitating anxiety disorder that involves:

  • a heightened sense of awareness (for example insomnia)
  • reliving the event (for example nightmares)
  • avoidance of things that remind them of the event (for example the bedroom)
  • guilt about their survival

In this experiment, researchers had two groups of healthy volunteers. Everyone watched a film with traumatic content and then one group was able to go to sleep, while the other was forced to stay awake for 24 hours (total Sleep Deprivation). Amazingly the group that had to stay awake had less measured fear of the film content than the group that got to sleep.   The researchers hypothesized that a case of sleep deprivation, like acute insomnia after a life threatening trauma, may help people not form the fearful memories of the traumatic event. Not long ago I blogged about sleep and memory. More specifically, we know that Rapid Eye Movement sleep ( aka REM Sleep) is when we see a good portion of the mental restoration that goes on in the brain. This is the time when we move information from our short term memory into our long term memory, and organize our thoughts in such a way that they can help us recall information later on. Could it be that with total sleep deprivation the brain is not allowed to form a long term memory of an event? While this may be possible, more research is certainly needed to better understand this complex situation.   Current treatments for PTSD include: reliving the experience (called exposure) and then working with someone on the feelings that are brought up by re-living the experience. In many cases anxiety medication and in some cases sleep medication may be warranted. Complications associated with PTSD may include depression, substance abuse, and alcoholism.   If you feel like you may be suffering from PTSD, contact your doctor immediately, as this is not a situation that will simply “work itself out.” New research shows great promise in working with those suffering from PTSD.   Sweet Dreams,   Michael J. Breus, PhD The Sleep Doctor™ Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep twitter: @thesleepdoctor Facebook: