Sleep early after trauma: A target for prevention and early intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder?

European Psychologist. Advance online publication.

Yasmine Azza, Ines Wilhelm, Birgit Kleim


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by intrusive re-experiencing of emotional memories of a traumatic event. Such memories are formed after exposure to trauma in the context of a cascading stress response including high levels of emotional arousal and stress hormone release. Sleep could be a key modulator of early memory formation and re-consolidation processes. Initial studies have investigated this association in this early time period, that is, hours and days after trauma exposure, and its role in modulating trauma memories and PTSD. The time is thus ripe to integrate findings from these studies. The current review consolidated evidence from five experimental and seven naturalistic studies on the association between trauma, sleep, and the development of intrusive emotional memories and PTSD, respectively. Together, the studies point to a potential protective role of sleep after trauma for the development of intrusive memories and PTSD. Findings regarding key sleep architecture features are more mixed and require additional investigation. The findings are important for prevention and intervention science.

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