A period of rest following a traumatic event could reduced the subsequent development of involuntary 'memory intrusions', one of the hallmark symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a new study said.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggested that memory disturbances in PTSD might be ameliorated by increased 'consolidation' (a process by which memories are stored and contextualised), which could shed new light on treatment and prevention.
"Our findings contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms that are at play when some people develop memory disturbances following trauma while others do not," said the study's lead author Lone Horlyck from the University College London.
For the findings, the researchers presented 85 participants with emotionally negative videos, followed by either a period of wakeful rest or a simple control task, where participants were required to pay attention to numbers on a screen.
The videos comprised highly emotional content, such as badly injured people or serious accidents.
The study found that participants who had a period of rest following the viewing of negative videos reported fewer memory intrusions related to the videos over the following week.
Rest and certain phases of sleep are known to increase processing in the hippocampus, a key region of the brain for memory, and which places memories in context.
According to the researchers, the results suggested that a strengthening of this contextual memory system was beneficial in preventing memory intrusions following trauma.
"The results show that specific brain systems could be targeted to reduce development of PTSD and may explain why treatments that focus on re-exposure and integrating the trauma with other information are beneficial," said the study's senior author, professor Neil Burgess.