First evidence that fearful memories can be reduced during sleepPosted: October 19, 2013
A fear memory was reduced in people by exposing them to the memory over and over again while they slept. It’s the first time that emotional memory has been manipulated in humans during sleep, report Northwestern Medicine® scientists.
The finding potentially offers a new way to enhance the typical daytime treatment of phobias through exposure therapy by adding a nighttime component. Exposure therapy is a common treatment for phobia and involves a gradual exposure to the feared object or situation until the fear is extinguished.
“It’s a novel finding,” said Katherina Hauner, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We showed a small but significant decrease in fear. If it can be extended to pre-existing fear, the bigger picture is that, perhaps, the treatment of phobias can be enhanced during sleep.”
Hauner did the research in the lab of Jay Gottfried, associate professor of neurology at Feinberg and senior author of the paper.
The study will be published Sept. 22 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.