When you are stressed, all you may be longing for is a good night’s sleep. Similarly, if you have just had a really traumatic experience, it’s natural to think that sleep would help heal. But recent research at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Life Sciences questions this idea.
It claims that making a person sleep immediately after he has experienced trauma will only make the memories of the incident stronger. The JNU sleep research team will be formally publishing this finding in a journal soon.
In a series of experiments on mice, the team discovered a unique relationship between sleep and trauma by creating what they call “a cued fear conditioning”. Team leader Sushil Kumar Jha explains: “We first scared them by making a sound followed by a fear stimulus. The conditioning was very much like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans. The next day they were only made to hear the sound and the physical stimulus was notgiven. They still got scared.” One group of mice was then allowed to sleep immediately after while another group was not allowed to sleep for six hours. “We again made the sound to see how they respond,” says Jha. Once again, the group that slept got scared; the group that was not allowed to sleep did not respond with fear. According to Jha, sleeping right after the traumatic event may have helped in consolidating memories of the trauma in the first group.
“In real life, when people suffering from PTSD are taken to hospital they are made to sleep immediately. Instead, if they are given painkillers and kept awake for some hours it may help them deal with the trauma better. We are still working on the study and will be ready with the results soon,” adds Jha.
However, H Chandrasekhar, head of psychiatry at Bangalore Medical College, says it’s too early to say if sleep has any role in trauma management. “I can only say that the more you sleep, the more you remember. In case of trauma patients, the immediate need will be pain management than sleep. Also, the findings of the JNU research I think will vary with the kind of trauma a person experiences,” he says.
JNU researchers are also working on various aspects of sleep’s impact onhealth and learning. Disturbed sleep due to stress can lead to conditions like obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular problems and a compromised immune system. A global study by Warwick Medical School estimates that over 150 million people aged 50 and above in the developing world — including 5% of Indians — suffer from sleep disorders.
Sleep also affects cognitive capabilities. One study currently underway at JNU shows that learning sessions lead to deep and sound slumber. The team also advocates a 15 to 20-minute power nap after lunch for people at work. Especially if their work involves multitasking and decision-making, such as people in managerial roles. “Tiredness affects decisiveness. If you are groggy, you will obviously experience attention deficit. Even the caffeine high of tea and coffee cannot give you the same alertness that you experience after a short nap,” says Jha.
He explains that their findings are based on animal experiments and there is a growing body of evidence that power naps are good. “But we perceive sleeping at work to be a crime. Anyone who is seen to be falling asleep is criticized. I think companies should start looking at power naps differently,” says Jha.
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Sleep brings down body temperature
Stress-induced sleep deprivation can cause obesity & hypertension; immune system is compromised
The notion that a glass of milk before going to bed may induce good sleep may be false. A neurotransmitter called serotonin is released in milk that is actually a wake inducer. So milk before sleep may lead to lighter sleep.
Sleep consolidates memory. So sleeping after a session of learning leads to better recall
Power naps help you become alert and decisive. A 15-20 minute power nap after lunch is ideal.