A recent study states that sleep spindles (bursts of coherent brain activity) can help regulate anxiety in people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). These sleep spindles are electroencephalographic (EEG) hallmarks of non-rapid eye movement sleep. The study highlights the importance of sleep spindles in lowering anxiety.

The study also confirms the role of spindles in transfer of the new information to longer-term memory storage. The research contradicts the results of another finding that indicates spindles may heighten intrusive and violent thoughts in people with PTSD.

The scientists enrolled 45 participants (who experienced combat or non-combat traumas); half of them had moderate symptoms of PTSD, and the other half had milder symptoms or were asymptomatic. The researchers observed the spindles during non-rapid eye movement 2 sleep (a phase in which maximum spindles occur).

The participants were shown images of violent scenes, such as war, accidents, human or animal injury, etc. This process took place 2 hours before a lab-monitored nap and is known as Stress Visit. The researchers conducted the anxiety surveys immediately after exposure to the images and after the nap. The researchers also compared the results between those who underwent Stress Visits and those who did not (control visit).

This experiment observed that spindle rate frequency was higher in those who underwent stress visits than those with control visits. The results of the experiment suggest that stress is a contributing factor in spindle-specific sleep rhythm changes. Also, post-nap anxiety was reduced in those who were having higher PTSD symptoms and increased spindle frequency after stress exposure.

A big question arising from the study is whether the spindle induced from medications (i.e. Ambien) can also bring the same changes as in the case of naturally occurring spindles; the researcher said. The scientist added electrical brain stimulation is another area that requires more study.

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What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that may be the result of experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. In such cases, symptoms may include anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, and uncontrollable thoughts of the event. If such symptoms interfere with day-to-day activities and seem difficult to cope with, the person must visit a doctor otherwise this may get worse.

Many people suffering from traumatic events may face temporary difficulty and heal with time and good self-care. PTSD symptoms are difficult to identify as they may not appear until years after the event or they may appear within a few months. PTSD symptoms cause severe problems in work-life balance or it could be a triggered factor for unhealthy social and personal behavior.

Due to the complex mixture of PTSD-causing factors, scientists are unable to find out why some people get PTSD. But, asking for help at the initial stage of mental problems lowers the risk of developing PTSD. The initial stage of mental health problems may include symptoms like anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, complex and uncontrollable thoughts, etc. Many scientists and researchers suggest consulting a doctor before turning the condition worse.