Scientists discover how sleep helps process traumatic experiences

on 11 February 2018
No brain, no gain

Scientists at the University of Zurich discover that sleep, following a traumatic event, can help lessen the effects of the trauma experience. Obviously assuming that you can get to sleep after such an event  . . . . . . . . . . 

If you can't, maybe Hypnosis can help? Hypnosis, the name coined by James Braid, around 1842, was chosen because Braid believed it to be a sleeplike state. He named it after Hypnos, the Greek God of Sleep and to be sure, there are some similarities, at least in terms of brainwave activity. But strictly speaking it is different to sleep, mostly because the client can hear most of what the hypnotist says. I say most because even in our everyday waken state we don't hear everything that is said. However, the difference, I believe, between what we hear whilst conscious and during hypnosis, is due to the fact that hearing cannot be switched off. So, you are either aware (as in consciously) or unaware of hearing but either way, you are hearing. Research shows that when in an hypnotic trance the brain is in a Theta brainwave state with elements of Gamma occuring. This is also the same level of brainwave activity when in REM and Non-Rem sleep, albeit with the subtle difference mentioned above.

It is rather interesting then to see the parallels between the protective nature that sleep has on the brain, which I am guessing has something to do with brainwave activity, and the healing effects of hypnosis! It has long been my contention, from an evidential perspective, that the quality of our life, is relative to the quality of our memories. In life, our ability to do almost anything, is the outcome of everything held in the memories within and across all brain regions. And from an hypnotherapeutic perspective, memory is the only thing we can change. We cannot change the past or how events unfolded, we can only change the way we express them by changing (through reconsolidation) the order in which those memories fire in our brain. In a sense, I am guessing, we disrupt the firing order and that changes the outcome, just enough to create a new order of expression.

So, if you have an anxiety or stress related condition or a depressive disorder (which always has high anxiety/stress components), then why not give hypnotherapy a shot; it's infinitely better than shooting in the dark!

My aim here, is to highlight the way hypnosis can help many people, whose condition is not responding to other medical interventions. Hypnotherapy,, essentially helping ordinary people; live a more ordinary life! To find out more, why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation - here

The Research:  

Does sleep help process stress and trauma? Or does it actually intensify emotional reactions and memories of the event? This previously unanswered question is highly relevant for the prevention of trauma-related disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How extremely distressing experiences are processed right at the outset can influence the further course and development of post traumatic stress disorders. PTSD patients experience highly emotional and distressing memories or even flashbacks where they feel as if they are experiencing their trauma all over again. Sleep could play a key role in processing what they have suffered.

A study conducted by a team from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich has now tackled the question as to whether sleep during the first 24 hours after a trauma has a positive impact on highly emotional distress and memories related to traumatic events. In the lab, the researchers showed test subjects a traumatic video. The recurring memories of the images in the film that haunted the test subjects for a few days were recorded in detail in a diary. Virtually out of the blue, the test subjects would see a snapshot of what they had seen in their mind's eye, reawakening the unpleasant feelings and thoughts they had experienced during the film. The quality of these memories resembles those of patients suffering from post traumatic stress disorders. Other than after a traumatic event, however, they reliably disappear after a few days. 

Fewer Distressing Emotional Memories

Study participants were randomly assigned to two groups. One slept in the lab for a night after the video while their sleep was recorded via an electroencephalograph (EEG); the other group remained awake. "Our results reveal that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake," explains first author Birgit Kleim from the Department of Experimental Psychopathology and Psychotherapy at the University of Zurich. "This supports the assumption that sleep may have a protective effect in the aftermath of traumatic experiences."

On the one hand, sleep can help weaken emotions connected to an existing memory, such as fear caused by traumatic experiences, for instance. On the other hand, it also helps contextualise the recollections, process them informationally and store these memories. However, this process presumably takes several nights.

According to the authors of the study, recommendations on early treatments and dealing with traumatised people in the early phase are few and far between. "Our approach offers an important non-invasive alternative to the current attempts to erase traumatic memories or treat them with medication," says Birgit Kleim. "The use of sleep might prove to be a suitable and natural early prevention strategy.

Story Source:  Materials provided by University of ZurichNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:  Birgit Kleim, Julia Wysokowsky, Nuria Schmid, Erich Seifritz, Björn Rasch. Effects of Sleep after Experimental Trauma on Intrusive Emotional MemoriesSLEEP, 2016; 39 (12): 2125 DOI: 10.5665/sleep.6310