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Sleep loss may disrupt the brain's ability to 'unlearn' fear

Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining mental health. For example, people with insomnia are approximately three times as likely to develop an anxiety disorder compared with those who sleep normally, according to a systematic review of research published in 2019. Other studies find that people who experience frequent sleep disturbances — a common issue for health workers and military personnel — have a higher risk of PTSD. Not getting enough rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the sleep stage when most dreaming occurs, seems to be a particularly important factor in this increased risk. Sleep in general, and REM sleep in particular, are known to play a vital role in “fear extinction.” This is the process of learning where the stimuli previously associated with unpleasant sensations or experiences now become harmless. The researchers speculate that sleeping only the first half of the night deprives a person of most of their REM sleep, which occurs predominantly toward the end of a normal sleep period. Studies have found that REM sleep helps people unlearn fearful memories from the previous day. The new research suggests it is also important for unlearning fear conditioning on the following day. The researchers were surprised to discover that fear-related regions in the brains of participants who they completely deprived of sleep did not activate during the experiment’s fear conditioning and extinction phases. In the evening, when the researchers tested participants’ memories of the fear extinction, the pattern of activity in their brains was similar to that in the brains of subjects who slept normally. The scientists speculate that a compensatory mechanism may kick in when people are totally sleep-deprived, protecting their brains from fear conditioning. They write that a similar mechanism may explain why some people with depression experience a temporary easing of their symptoms through sleep deprivation therapy. However, the current study suggests that partial sleep deprivation fails to activate this protective mechanism.(Credits: www.medicalnewstoday.com)

Do weighted blankets work?

A weighted blanket is a blanket that contains weighted balls or pellets. Weighted blankets work similarly to a technique called deep pressure stimulation (DPS). This technique involves applying firm but gentle pressure equally across the body. Some psychologists suggest that DPS allows the body to switch from the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS governs the so-called fight-or-flight response, whereas the PNS controls the rest-and-digest response. Some people may describe the sensation of using a weighted blanket as similar to that of a hug. A lot of people, therefore, find comfort in using a weighted blanket. A weighted blanket is a blanket that contains weighted balls or pellets. These blankets exert a firm but gentle pressure equally across the body, which may promote rest and relaxation. There is currently very little scientific research exploring the effectiveness of weighted blankets. However, the available research suggests that weighted blankets may be beneficial for children with ASD and people with ADHD or anxiety. Weighted blankets may not be suitable for people with certain preexisting health conditions. Anyone who has a health condition that affects their breathing or circulation should consult a healthcare provider before using a weighted blanket.(Credits: www.medicalnewstoday.com)