Connection between trauma, bad sleep and stress symptoms
Trauma, sleep problems and stress symptoms are closely related
A new study found evidence that sleep problems could have a major impact on people developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a severe experience.
Posttraumatic stress disorder after shocking experiences
In addition to anxiety disorders and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also occur when people have experienced terrible things, even if the dramatic experiences are weeks or months, sometimes even years ago. Trauma researchers at the University of Saarland have now found evidence in a sleep study that sleep problems could have a decisive influence on people developing PTSD after a difficult experience. The study results were published in the journal "Sleep Medicine".Sleep disorders could have a significant impact on people developing post-traumatic stress disorder after a hard-onset experience. (Image: Photographee.eu/fotolia.com)
Trivial little things can trigger flashbacks
People who have experienced extreme physical violence, a terrorist attack, an accident, war or anything else shocking, sometimes fail to process what they have experienced.
In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder memory becomes a problem for those affected. Trivial little things - a smell, a T-shirt in a certain color - trigger so-called flashbacks without warning:
Suddenly and with force they experience the terrible again and again - several times a day.
"It is also typical, in addition to symptoms such as compulsive pondering or irritability, that those affected can not fully remember essential parts of the event," said psychology professor and trauma therapist Tanja Michael of the University of Saarland in a statement.
In the case of trauma consequential disorders, the memory is obviously impaired.
Most of the patients suffer from difficulty sleeping and staying asleep
The Saarbrücken trauma researchers around Tanja Michael wanted to get to the bottom of that.
The results of her sleep study suggest that trauma, poor sleep and the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related.
The researchers found evidence that a traumatic event can cause sleep disturbances and that sleep quality in turn has an effect on the development of PTSD symptoms.
"Seventy to more than ninety percent of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder suffer from sleep disorders, which is known from previous studies," said the doctor of psychology Roxanne Sopp.
Sleep generally plays a crucial role in memory formation. "Especially when storing in the long-term memory and for consolidating the memory of sleep has crucial function," said Sopp.
Interplay of trauma, sleep disorders and memory-related symptoms
In order to shed more light on the interplay of trauma, sleep disturbances and memory-related symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the team confronted subjects with "traumatic" film contents.
In their experimental study, the researchers examined how these film contents, which trigger a kind of "small", temporary trauma, affect the subjects' sleep quality and spontaneous, stressful memories.
Thirty-two subjects, all of them sound sleepers without sleep difficulties, spent a night in the sleep lab of the Saar University - watched by the scientists who monitored their sleep with brainwave measurements (EEG).
One group saw the trauma film before going to bed, the control group a neutral, non-incriminating film.
"The sleep duration was reduced in the trauma group, the non-REM sleep was significantly reduced and the waking phases at night were longer," summarizes Sopp.
The study participants of the trauma group then kept a diary for several days and documented how often they thought about scenes of the film and how stressful they felt this.
They also responded to questionnaires that asked for typical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as flashbacks. The results were evaluated by the researchers together with the brain current measurements.
Further improve confrontation therapy
The team found clear indications of a relationship: "More sleep, fewer symptoms," Roxanne Sopp sums it up.
"The more SLE sleep phases the subjects had, the less flashbacks they had for key stimuli and they found them less burdensome. This suggests a connection between sleep and PTSD symptoms. "
The researchers now want to incorporate these findings into the psychotherapeutic treatment of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In particular, the goal is to further improve the confrontation therapy, one of the most successful trauma treatment methods. In the context of such therapies they want to specifically use sleep therapies to support memory formation.
"The disruption of the memory processes, which is responsible for the fact that the traumatic event for those affected is constantly back to the present, is central to the confrontation therapy," says Sopp.
"At the same time, this disorder also complicates the therapy process and thus the effectiveness of the therapy. This is where our research comes in, "says the scientist.
"To improve the effectiveness of confrontation therapy in perspective, we investigate whether sleep enhances memory processes that occur during successful trauma therapies." (Ad)