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Better sleep, less fear

Rapid eye movement sleep may dampen sensitivity to fearful stimuli

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: More time in Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep predicted less connectivity between key brain regions that are involved in fear learning. view more 

Credit: Itamar Lerner and Shira Lupkin

Higher quality sleep patterns are associated with reduced activity in brain regions involved in fear learning, according to a study of young adults published in JNeurosci. The results suggest that baseline sleep quality may be a useful predictor of susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sleep disturbances are a common feature of PTSD. While previous research has focused on understanding how single nights of sleep influence the maintenance of already-established fear memories, few studies have investigated whether an individual's regular sleeping habits prior to trauma contributes to the acquisition of these fear memories.

Itamar Lerner, Shira Lupkin and their colleagues at Rutgers University had students monitor their sleep at home for one week using unobtrusive sleep monitoring tools, including a headband that measures brain waves, a bracelet that measures arm movements, and a sleep log. The students then participated in a neuroimaging experiment during which they learned to associate a neutral image with a mild electric shock. Students who spent more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep -- the phase when dreaming occurs -- exhibited weaker modulation of activity in, and connectivity between, their amygdala, hippocampus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex during fear learning.

The authors replicated these results in a second study using traditional polysomnographic monitoring of sleep during the night just prior to fear learning. Taken together, the findings are consistent with the idea that REM sleep reduces levels of norepinephrine in the brain, which may dampen an individual's sensitivity to fearful stimuli.

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Article: Baseline Levels of Rapid-Eye-Movement Sleep May Protect Against Excessive Activity in Fear-Related Neural Circuits DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0578-17.2017 Corresponding authors: Itamar Lerner, itamar.lerner@gmail.com and Shira Lupkin, shiralupkin@gmail.com (Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, USA)

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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