When I was working out the other day, I saw a blurb on the TV about sleep deprivation and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) memories. The sound was off, so I couldn’t tell much about it at the time. I made a mental note to research the topic online later.
I found an article entitled PTSD Study: Sleep Deprivation May Help You Cope With Traumatic Events that explained this article from Business Week. In a nutshell, a study was conducted in which healthy volunteers watched videos of safe driving and traffic collisions. Half of the participants got a good night’s sleep while the other half were deprived of sleep. Those who were sleep-deprived did not develop fear-associated memories from viewing the videos. Researchers are hopeful that “sleep deprivation can eliminate the fear-associated memories.” ~ Sleep Deprivation May Help Treat PTSD
I see a few flaws with this study. First, watching a traumatizing video of a car crash is nowhere near as traumatizing as living through one. When a person has experienced trauma, sometimes the person feels a strong need to sleep to “shut down.” I don’t think that making a soldier stay awake for a few days after watching his buddy get blown to bits is going to magically prevent PTSD symptoms from setting in. This is not something you can test just by having people view a video.
Second, I was sleep-deprived quite a bit when my abuse was happening. My mother would pull me out of my bed in the night and drive me to the cult gatherings, where I was awake for several hours being abused. I didn’t have the opportunity for much sleep before I had to go to school the next day. There is no question that I have many fear-based memories stored in my brain after those events.
Third, I frequently deal with insomnia when I am working through my fear-based memories, and the lack of sleep does not seem to purge the fear. The only thing that has worked for me is to allow myself to experience the memory, claim the experience as “mine,” and give a voice to the emotions and feelings that result. Getting less sleep during this process only makes me feel more “crazy.” I wind up trying to shift my schedule around to build in naps because I am never plagued with nightmares during a nap.
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket here. I would love to find any cure for PTSD. I just don’t think that sleep-deprivation is the answer. I also don’t think that we can equate the experience of watching a scary video to living through severe trauma. What are your thoughts on this?
Photo credit: Hekatekris