Sleep deprivation may be therapeutic for some people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders, a new study suggests.


PTSD is an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic event, such as a frightening or life-threatening experience.

Previous research has shown that sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of memories, and that the development of fear-related memories is an important part of anxiety disorders such as PTSD.

The Study

Researchers investigated what happened when they deprived people of sleep after they had seen disturbing images. Healthy volunteers were shown video clips of both safe driving and traffic crashes. Half of the participants were then deprived of sleep while the others got a normal night's sleep.

Follow-up assessments showed that sleep deprivation eliminated the memories associated with fear.

The study is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


"Sleep deprivation after exposure to a traumatic event, whether intentional or not, may help prevent PTSD. Our findings may help to clarify the functional role of acute insomnia and to develop a prophylactic strategy of sleep restriction for prevention of PTSD," said corresponding author Kenichi Kuriyama, MD, PhD.

It would be nice if the benefits of sleep deprivation could be produced more easily for survivors of extreme stress, said journal editor John Krystal, MD, professor and chair of psychiatry at Yale University.

New insights into what is learned during sleep may make it possible for these people to take a medication that disrupts this process while leaving restorative elements of sleep intact, he added.

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