STUDY OBJECTIVES: To investigate sleep's effect in the immediate aftermath of experiencing an analog trauma in the laboratory on reducing intrusive emotional memory formation.
METHODS: Sixty-five healthy women were exposed to an experimental laboratory trauma. They viewed a neutral and a trauma film in the laboratory and were randomly allocated to either a group that slept following film viewing or a group that remained awake. Sleep was recorded with electroencephalogram in a subgroup of participants in the sleep group. All participants recorded intrusive memories in the week following the film.
RESULTS: The sleep group experienced fewer and less distressing intrusive trauma memories compared to the wake group. These effects were particularly evident toward the end of the week. Duration spent in stage N2 as opposed to light N1 sleep, a higher number of fast parietal sleep spindles and a lower rapid eye movement sleep density predicted intrusion frequency.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results have clinical implications and set the ground for early-intervention sleep studies following trauma and prevention of chronic posttrauma disorders.