Sleep Deprivation Disrupts Recall of Conditioned Fear Extinction.
Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2017 Mar ;2(2):123-129. PMID: 28758152
Laura D Straus
BACKGROUND: Learned fear is crucial in the development and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders, and extinction of learned fear is necessary for response to exposure-based treatments. In humans, research suggests disrupted sleep impairs consolidation of extinction, though no studies have examined this experimentally using total sleep deprivation.
METHODS: Seventy-one healthy controls underwent a paradigm to acquire conditioned fear to a visual cue. Twenty-four hours after fear conditioning, participants underwent extinction learning. Twenty-four hours after extinction learning, participants underwent extinction recall. Participants were randomized to three groups: 1) well-rested throughout testing ("normal sleep"; n = 21); 2) 36 hours total sleep deprivation before extinction learning ("pre-extinction deprivation"; n = 25); or 3) 36 hours total sleep deprivation after extinction learning and before extinction recall ("post-extinction deprivation"; n = 25). The groups were compared on blink EMG reactivity to the condition stimulus during extinction learning and recall.
RESULTS: There were no differences among the three groups during extinction learning. During extinction recall, the pre-extinction deprivation group demonstrated significantly less extinction recall than the normal sleep group. There was no significant difference between the normal sleep and post-extinction deprivation group during extinction recall. Results indicated sleep deprivation prior to extinction training significantly disrupts extinction recall.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that (1) sleep deprivation in the immediate aftermath of trauma could be a potential contributor to PTSD development and maintenance via interference with natural extinction processes and (2) management of sleep symptoms should be considered during extinction-based therapy.