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Part I: Sleep study may help with PTSD


Sleep plays a role in preserving memories. While recent research shows that wakefulness may cloud memories of traumatic events, a new study has found that wakefulness also clouds positive memories. Sleep provides protection for positive memories as much as negative ones. This could be key for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Insomnia a natural defense against memory

“The study of how sleep helps us remember and process emotional information is still young,” says Alexis Chambers of the University of Notre Dame. Past research has revealed a lot about how sleep recalls negative images and memories. Studies have even explored insomnia as a natural defense against reliving those memories in sleep.

Two new studies focus on the positive. “Only if we investigate all the possibilities within this field will we ever fully understand the processes underlying our sleep, memory, and emotions,” said Chambers.

To test sleep and positive memories, Rebecca Spencer of the University of Massachusetts split a group into two. One group got to sleep overnight and one group had to stay awake. Both viewed positive images and neutral items. They were then interviewed 12 hours later after sleep or wakefulness.

The prioritization of memory

“Sleep enhances our emotionally positive memories while these memories decay over wake,” Spencer said. “Positive memories may even be prioritized for processing during sleep.” While people remembered the positive images more than the neutral ones, their emotional response did not change. “It doesn’t matter if you went to sleep or stayed awake – what you thought was a ‘9’ – really great – you still think is a ‘9’,” explained Spencer.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Cognitive Neuroscience Society

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