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Alleviate traumatization: Sleeping helps to process traumatic events


Rapid sleep after trauma helps to process memories
Many people who have experienced something terrible are traumatized afterwards - often for a lifetime. Traumas that are initially purely of a psychological nature can subsequently result in psychosomatic ailments. Researchers have now found that sleep in the first 24 hours after a psychological trauma could help classify and process stressful memories.

The experience can no longer be undone
According to the German Trauma Foundation, traumatization results in a massive stress response, which goes hand in hand with profound psychological, physical and social insecurity. "Even if the experience can no longer be reversed - targeted trauma therapy using special psychotherapeutic methods helps to stabilize and cope with everyday life," write the experts. Help can also be possible if those affected sleep soon after the traumatic event. This is indicated by the results of a current study from Switzerland.

Processing stress and trauma
Does sleep help deal with stress and trauma? Or does it even aggravate the reactions? This hitherto unanswered question is of great importance for the prevention of secondary disorders in trauma.

How such extremely stressful experiences are processed right at the beginning can influence the further course and development of a post-traumatic stress disorder. "Sleep could play a key role here in processing what has been experienced," wrote the Psychiatric University Clinic in Zurich on its website.

Positive effect on heavy emotional stress
In a study, researchers from the Psychological Institute at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Clinic in Zurich investigated whether sleep in the first 24 hours after a trauma had a positive effect on severe emotional stress.

For this, the healthy subjects were first shown a traumatic video. Afterwards, the study participants were divided into two groups. One slept one night in the laboratory after the video, her sleep was recorded using an electroencephalogram (EEG). Another group stayed awake.

What was seen reappeared out of nowhere
In the first few days, the test subjects should record the recurring memories of the pictures in the film in a diary. Apparently out of nowhere, the study participants saw sections of what they saw again in their minds - and the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts during the film were there again.

"The quality of these memories is similar to that of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder," reports the university. The results of the investigation were published in the specialist journal "Sleep".

Protective effects of sleep
“Our results show that people who slept after the film had fewer and less stressful recurrent emotional memories than those who stayed awake. This supports the assumption that sleep has a protective effect after traumatic experiences, ”explained first author Birgit Kleim from the Experimental Psychopathology and Psychotherapy Department at the University of Zurich.

Contradiction to previous studies
However, a news release from the APA news agency points out that the results of the Swiss researchers contradict previous studies that concluded that sleep deprivation can alleviate scary memories.

Kleim said: "According to a common theory, memories consist of two parts, the content and a kind of emotional shell." Sleep supports the storage of the content, but at the same time reduces the associated negative emotions.

"That makes the memory less stressful. And ultimately, trauma should be classified in an individual's autobiography. ”

Natural early prevention
According to the scientists, there is still too little research on the effects of sleep in the time immediately after a stressful experience.

“The question is, what can you offer people right after a trauma to reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder? Our approach offers an important non-invasive alternative to current attempts to erase trauma memories or to support them with medication, ”says Birgit Kleim.

"The use of sleep could prove to be a natural early prevention strategy." (Ad)

Author and source information


Video: Easing the Effects of Childhood Trauma. Kaiser Permanente (September 2021).