Loss of Sleep Raises Risks for Anxiety and PTSD

By Jim Windell

            I know I’m not at my best on those days after I had less than my optimal number of hours of sleep. And I hate the groggy feeling I have after a sleepless night. As for learning anything new or attacking new challenges when I didn’t get enough sleep, forget it.
            We’ve known for some time that sleep is important for consolidating our memories. And we have also been aware that sleep deprivation interferes with learning and memory. However, a new study suggests that getting only half a night's sleep – as many medical workers and military personnel often do – gets in the way of the brain's ability to unlearn fear-related memories. That could very possibly put people at greater risk of conditions such as anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder.

This new study appears in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. Entitled “Partial and Total Sleep Deprivation Interferes with Neural Correlates of Consolidation of Fear Extinction Memory,” the study provides us with new insights into how sleep deprivation affects brain function to disrupt fear extinction.

            The researchers, led by Anne Germain, PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh, and Edward Pace-Schott, PhD, at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, studied 150 healthy adults in the sleep laboratory. One third of subjects got normal sleep, one third were sleep restricted, so they slept only the first half of the night, and one third were sleep deprived, so they got no sleep at all. In the morning, all the subjects underwent fear conditioning.