Staying awake after a traumatic experience may be the best way to stop disturbing flashbacks, researchers say, reported DailyMail.
Scientists found that a period of sleep deprivation can help to counter so-called ‘intrusive memories’.
Oxford University experts said although sleep helps to sort out and store our memories – it may not be useful in the case of a grim event we may not want to remember.
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Researchers showed study participants a film containing emotionally traumatic scenes before either preventing them sleeping or allowing them a normal night’s slumber at home.
Team member Dr Katharina Wulff said: ‘The sleep-deprived group experienced fewer intrusive memories than those who had been able to sleep normally. We know that sleep improves memory performance including emotional memory, but there may be a time when remembering in this way is unhelpful.’
Further work is needed as flashbacks are still not well understood and real-life trauma cannot be replicated in a laboratory.
Study leader Dr Kate Porcheret, of the university’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, added: "Finding out more how sleep and trauma interact means we can ensure people are well cared for after a traumatic event.
"For example, it is still common for patients to receive sedatives after a traumatic event to help them sleep, even though we already know that for some very traumatised people this may be the wrong approach."
The researchers examined how a brief sleep affected emotional control in a study of 40 adults aged from 18 to 50.
Those who were given the chance of a 60-minute nap spent more time persevering to solve a task than the non-nappers, who got more frustrated trying to complete it. In addition, the nappers reported feeling less impulsive.
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Combined with previous research demonstrating the negative effects of sleep deprivation, the findings indicate that staying awake for an extended period of time hinders people from controlling negative emotional responses.
Jennifer Goldschmied, the study’s lead author, added: "Our results suggest that napping may be a beneficial intervention for individuals who may be required to remain awake for long periods of time by enhancing the ability to persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks."