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Psychol Med. 2014 May;44(7):1511-9. doi: 10.1017/S0033291713001748. Epub 2013 Jul 10.

Sleep enhances exposure therapy.

Author information

1
Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
2
Department of Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy, and Health Psychology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria.
3
University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.
4
Center for the Study and Treatment of Mental Health, Department of Clinical Psychology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany.
5
Virtual Reality Medical Center, San Diego, CA, USA.
6
Department of Biopsychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Sleep benefits memory consolidation. Here, we tested the beneficial effect of sleep on memory consolidation following exposure psychotherapy of phobic anxiety.

METHOD:

A total of 40 individuals afflicted with spider phobia according to DSM-IV underwent a one-session virtual reality exposure treatment and either slept for 90 min or stayed awake afterwards.

RESULTS:

Sleep following exposure therapy compared with wakefulness led to better reductions in self-reported fear (p = 0.045, d = 0.47) and catastrophic spider-related cognitions (p = 0.026, d = 0.53) during approaching a live spider, both tested after 1 week. Both reductions were associated with greater percentages of stage 2 sleep.

CONCLUSIONS:

Our results indicate that sleep following successful psychotherapy, such as exposure therapy, improves therapeutic effectiveness, possibly by strengthening new non-fearful memory traces established during therapy. These findings offer an important non-invasive alternative to recent attempts to facilitate therapeutic memory extinction and consolidation processes with pharmacological or behavioral interventions.

PMID:
23842278
DOI:
10.1017/S0033291713001748
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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