Sleep Deprivation May Reduce PTSD Risk

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Tel Aviv University have discovered that sleep deprivation in the first hours following an intense event could help decrease the likelihood of having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The study, published in international scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology, included a variety of experiments that focused on how sleep deprivation in the six hours after exposure to a stressful threat could be a possible easy and impactful intervention for PTSD.

“Often those close to someone exposed to a traumatic event, including medical teams, seek to relieve the distress and assume that it would be best if they could rest and “sleep on it,” explained Professor Hagit Cohen, director of the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at BGU´s Faculty of Health Sciences, in a prepared statement. “Since memory is a significant component in the development of post-traumatic symptoms, we decided to examine the various effects of sleep deprivation immediately after exposure to trauma.”

Cohen conducted the experiment with Professor Joseph Zohar of Tel Aviv University. In their project, rats that had sleep deprivation after exposure to a traumatic event did not show memory of the event later on. However, a control group of rats that was given the opportunity to sleep after the event demonstrated that they still remembered the event.

The findings of the study are particularly important, as around 20 percent of people who are exposed to a stressful event will continue to carry those feelings with them. Traumatic events can include threats such as a car or work accident, a terrorist attack, or war. People tend to have a memory of the event for many years and it will lead to problems in individuals´ daily life. For extreme cases, the stress can cause a person to become dysfunctional.

“As is the case for human populations exposed to severe stress, 15 to 20 percent of the animals develop long-term disruptions in their behavior,” remarked Cohen in the statement. “Our research method for this study is, we believe, a breakthrough in biomedical research.”

In the next step, the investigator hopes to complete a pilot study on humans. The experiment was supported by the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities and Israel Ministry of Health.

The news of this PTSD study follows recent coverage of other PTSD experiments. For example, an article in the New York Times highlighted a study from Columbia University that estimated that one in eight individuals who suffer from heart attacks may also develop PTSD. Physicians theorize that PTSD may occur in heart patients who are stressed about their own bodies and anxiously check for any chest discomfort. The researchers from Columbia also stated that the severity of the heart attack wasn´t an important issue; rather, the patients who had the heart attack at an early age or those who felt like they had no control over their life would be the ones who were at the greatest risk for PTSD.

“I think that the broader cardiology community and medical community haven´t really paid attention to this issue,” noted lead author Donald Edmondson, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia, in the NY Times article. “When you think of PTSD. due to combat or a traumatic event, the patient experiences intrusive memories reliving an external event. But this type of trauma is something that is internal.”

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