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Morning blue light improves sleep for PTSD patients

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced better sleep, reduced severity of PTSD symptoms and more effective treatments after exposure to blue light therapy, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson Department of Psychiatry and recently published in Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience.

Sleep is crucial for maintaining physical and mental health, and insufficient sleep over time can impact all aspects of life with serious implications for long-term health, relationships, cognitive abilities such as learning and healing.

The influence of sleep disturbance on the severity of PTSD symptoms is well established. Those seeking treatment to soothe their PTSD symptoms often face a vicious circle in which poor sleep interferes with the effectiveness of treatments, negating any decrease in symptoms, which in turn contributes to sleep disruptions. To reduce and eliminate the emotional impact of traumatic memories, the patient needs quality sleep to integrate the healing mechanisms achieved through cognitive therapy or exposure treatments.

“This research is exciting and unique because it points to an easy-to-use method to help people with PTSD retain the benefits of therapy long after treatment has ended,” said the psychiatry professor. William “Scott” Killgore, Ph.D.director of the Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neurosciences (SCAN) Laboratory and lead author of the article, “Morning Blue Light Treatment Improves Sleep Disorders, Symptom Severity, and Extinction Memory Retention fear in post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Dr. Killgore and the SCAN Lab team conducted a comprehensive assessment of daily morning blue light exposure on people with clinically significant levels of PTSD. The goal was to determine whether blue light therapy would help improve sleep and PTSD symptoms and maintain learned fear-extinguishing memories, an analogue of therapeutic trauma treatment.

Study participants committed to 30 minutes of daily morning light exposure for six weeks, with half of the participants using blue light and the other half using amber light. Researchers looked at changes in neurobiological, autonomic, and behavioral outcomes over the course of the study.

The 43 participants who received blue light therapy not only demonstrated significant improvements in the severity of their PTSD symptoms, but also reported improvements in sleep and showed increased retention of fear extinction memories. . In comparison, the 39 study participants who received amber light did not show the same retention of extinction memories, but instead showed a return of the original fear memories.

“Although the limitations of the research include its modest sample size and the difficulties of monitoring adherence, the possibilities of using a relatively simple, drug-free and inexpensive treatment may offer hope to the large population. of people living with the intense challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Dr Killgore.

“The data is exciting,” said Jordan Karp, MD, professor and director of the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Psychiatry. “This non-pharmacological intervention is a promising opportunity to change and save the lives of people with PTSD.”

Reference: Vanuk JR, Pace-Schott EF, Bullock A, Esbit S, Dailey NS, Killgore WDS. Morning blue light therapy improves sleep disturbance, symptom severity, and retention of fear extinction memory in posttraumatic stress disorder. Front. Behavior Neuroscience. 2022;16. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2022.886816

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