According to new research at the Boston University School of Medicine, a specific brainwave triggered during REM sleep is crucial to consolidate memories of safety and allow you to overcome the fear associated with traumatic events.
This shows us another reason why sleep is so crucial and why sleep apnea can be so devastating to your physical and psychological health.
Overcoming Fear with Exposure Therapy
Based on evidence, exposure therapy is the best way to overcome fearful memories and prevent them from developing into anxiety disorders. In exposure therapy, people are given repeated exposures to the fear-inducing stimulus under controlled conditions. This allows them to face their fears in a context of safety. It creates new memories, called extinction memories, that overpower and destroy the fearful memory when people re-encounter the fearful stimulus.
However, exposure therapy doesn’t always work. Now researchers think they know why. In order for the new memories, the extinction memories, the safe memories to be consolidated, people have to achieve REM (Rapid-Eye Movement) sleep. During REM sleep, phasic pontine waves (p-waves) occur in the brainstem, allowing the body to consolidate the new memories.
Researchers demonstrated this by monitoring the brain wave activity of rats and showing that the 57% of rats who were able to overcome fear, there was p-wave activity, but in the 43% of rats unable to overcome fear, there was no p-wave activity.
Are You Getting Enough of the Right Sleep?
Although p-wave activity has been proven to play a role in consolidating extinction memories, it actually plays an important role in all memory consolidation. Unfortunately, sleep apnea may make it hard enough for you to achieve REM sleep, which can affect your memory, and make it harder for you to overcome fearful experiences as well as remember new ones.
Even if you’re spending enough time in bed, sleep apnea may mean you’re waking up constantly, and may never reach REM sleep. You may not know you’re waking up, but you’re certainly aware of the sleepiness, headaches, fatigue, and memory difficulties that come along with it.