People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sleep better, experience less severity of PTSD symptoms and be more effective after receiving blue light therapy, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona School of Medicine. – Department of Psychiatry, Tucson, recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
Sleep is essential for maintaining physical and mental health, and over time, insufficient sleep can affect every aspect of life, with serious implications for long-term health, relationships, and cognitive abilities such as learning and recovery.
The effect of sleep disruption on the severity of PTSD symptoms is well established. Those seeking treatment to relieve their PTSD symptoms often face a vicious cycle where sleep deprivation interferes with the effectiveness of treatment, counteracting any symptom relief, leading to sleep disruption. To reduce and eliminate the emotional impact of traumatic memories, patients need quality sleep to integrate healing mechanisms through cognitive or exposure therapy.
“This study is exciting and unique because it points to an easy-to-use method that can help people with PTSD maintain the benefits of treatment long after treatment ends,” said Dr. William “Scott” Killgore, professor of psychiatry Say. Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Laboratory and senior author of the paper, “Morning blue light treatment improves sleep discomfort, symptom severity, and retention of fear extinction memories in PTSD.”
Dr. Killgore and the SCAN laboratory team performed a comprehensive assessment of daily morning blue light exposure in individuals with clinically significant levels of PTSD. The goal was to determine whether blue light therapy could help improve sleep and PTSD symptoms and maintain learned fear extinction memory, an analog of trauma therapy.
Study participants committed to 30 minutes of daily morning light exposure for six weeks, with half using blue wavelengths of light and the other half using amber light. The researchers examined changes in neurobiological, autonomic, and behavioral outcomes during the study period.
The 43 participants treated with blue light not only showed significant improvement in the severity of their PTSD symptoms, but also reported improved sleep and demonstrated increased retention of fear extinction memories. In contrast, the 39 study participants exposed to amber light did not show the same retention of extinction memories, but rather the restoration of the original fear memory.
“While limitations of the study include the modest sample size and difficulty monitoring adherence, the possibility of harnessing a relatively simple, non-toxic and inexpensive treatment approach could offer hope to a large number of people living with later challenges. Traumatic arousal disorder,” said Dr. Killgore.
“These data are exciting,” said Jordan Karp, professor and chair of the Tucson Department of Psychiatry’s School of Medicine. “This non-drug intervention is a promising life-changing and life-saving possibility for people with PTSD.”
This research was supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (W81XWH-14-0570).