Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions

Before I was licensed I was the director of a Rape Trauma program and initially trained in what was called “Immersion Therapy” – Trauma survivors were suppose to tell and retell and retell their trauma experience until the trauma had “lost” it’s emotional impact.  After only a few sessions, watching clients get worse,  I knew there needed to be a better way so I studied alternate treatments that did not re-tramautize people. 

This experience was invaluable to both me professionally and the people who came to see me during my psychotherapy career.  I  successfully treated people with all manners of traumatic experiences from being in airplane crashes to buried alive.  Although I’m no longer in practice, trauma research still interests me.

Reading this study about how it might be better NOT to sleep after a traumatic event got my attention.  (jw)

Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions.

“Researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst asked more than 100 healthy adults to rate their emotional responses to a series of images, some depicting unsettling scenes. Twelve hours later, they rated the images again. The difference: Half of the subjects slept during the break; the other half did not.”

“Not only did sleep protect the memory, but it also protected the emotional reaction,” said Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist at UMass Amherst and co-author of the study that was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Study subjects who stayed awake for 12 hours had a weaker emotional response to the unsettling images the second time around, suggesting sleep serves to preserve and even amplify negative emotions. Their memories were also weaker than those of their well-rested counterparts, as they struggled to remember whether they had seen the images before.

“It’s true that ‘sleeping on it’ is usually a good thing to do,” said Spencer, citing evidence that sleep boosts memory and other cognitive functions. “It’s just when something truly traumatic or out of the ordinary happens that you might want to stay awake.”

Spencer said people often find it difficult to sleep after a traumatic event.
“This study suggests the biological response we have after trauma might actually be a healthy, she said. “Perhaps letting people go through a period of insomnia before feeding them sleeping meds is actually beneficial.”
While the findings may have implications for post traumatic stress disorder, Spencer emphasized that daily emotional ups and downs are not grounds for sleep deprivation.”

Just because we have a bad day doesn’t mean we should stay awake,” she said. “We need to maintain some memories and emotional context to know what to avoid. We do learn something from them.”

Although sleep gives the body some much-needed rest, the brain stays active. Spencer used polysomnography to monitor brain activity in some sleeping subjects.
“REM sleep in particular was associated with a change in how emotional you found something,” she said. “We think there are parts of the brain being activated during sleep that allow us to process those emotions more than during day.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College.

How to keep optimistic in face of reality

This was of personal interest to me given that the last several days I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.  Seems my brain’s left inferior frontal gyrus was not gyrating. (jw)

P.S.  Be patient while the video loads.  If you don’t like what Tali says you will like how she looks (certainly not like a stereo-type neuroscientist).

“Optimism bias is the belief that the future will be better, much better, than the past or present. And most of us display this bias. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot wants to know why: What is it about our brains that makes us overestimate the positive?

Tali Sharot, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.

In the book, Sharot reviewed findings from both social science and neuroscience that point to an interesting conclusion: “Our brains aren’t just stamped by the past. They are constantly being shaped by the future.”

In her own work, Sharot is interested in how our natural optimism actually shapes what we remember, and her interesting range of papers encompasses behavioral research (how likely we are to misremember major events) as well as medical findings — like searching for the places in the brain where optimism lives. Sharot is a faculty member of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences at University College London.”

Eat as much as you want, just not WHAT you want

A standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume. In a new study, published in JAMA*, people who ate lots of vegetables and whole foods rather than processed ones lost weight without worrying about calories or portion size.

It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

“The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. . . .. their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.”

The study compared  how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets . . .  and tested the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. (A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.)

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels,

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

They did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.”

Read the New York Times story

*led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

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Positively Tuesday Positively

Three major insights from research

POSITIVE feelings can drive out negative feelings

No happiness LASTS forever, but we can experience more happiness and have it last longer

HOW we experience something is more important than what we experience