Can Sleep Help Reduce PTSD Symptoms?

Can Sleep Help Reduce PTSD Symptoms?

Can Sleeping Help Reduce PTSD Symptoms?

Sleeping in the first 24 hours after a traumatic event may help people to process the memory more effectively and therefore minimize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research published in the journal Sleep.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an ongoing reaction to events such as the sudden death of a loved one, an accident, a sexual assault, or a violent attack.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 7-8 percent of people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

Statistics show that it is more common among war veterans, ranging from 11 percent to 20 percent, depending on the field of combat.

When bad things happen, it can take time for a person to work through the negative emotions. In time, the distressing memories should gradually fade away. In PTSD, however, they may not.

A person with PTSD can experience flashbacks, bad dreams, and seemingly illogical fears for months or even years after the event.

The effects of PTSD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an adult must have certain symptoms for at least a month to be diagnosed with PTSD.

The symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Avoiding a person, event, or object related to the experience, or refusing to think about anything associated with it
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms, such as feeling easily startled, tense, or being unable to sleep
  • Symptoms that affect cognition and mood, such as loss of interest in things the person usually enjoys, or distorted feelings of guilt

If the effects interfere with work or relationships, this indicates that the person has PTSD. Children will have slightly different signs and symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD do not necessarily emerge straight away. They may start to develop 3 months or even a year after the event.

Now, Prof. Birgit Kleim and colleagues from the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland have carried out an experiment, the findings of which suggest that sleeping after a traumatic event can help to process the memories and help people to move on.

In the past, it has been unclear whether sleep plays a positive role in processing stress and trauma, or if it makes the emotional reactions and memories more intense.

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