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Sleep enhances exposure therapy

  • B. Kleim (a1), F. H. Wilhelm (a2), L. Temp (a3), J. Margraf (a4), B. K. Wiederhold (a5) (a6) and B. Rasch (a7)...

Abstract

Background

Sleep benefits memory consolidation. Here, we tested the beneficial effect of sleep on memory consolidation following exposure psychotherapy of phobic anxiety.

Method

A total of 40 individuals afflicted with spider phobia according to DSM-IV underwent a one-session virtual reality exposure treatment and either slept for 90 min or stayed awake afterwards.

Results

Sleep following exposure therapy compared with wakefulness led to better reductions in self-reported fear (p = 0.045, d = 0.47) and catastrophic spider-related cognitions (p = 0.026, d = 0.53) during approaching a live spider, both tested after 1 week. Both reductions were associated with greater percentages of stage 2 sleep.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that sleep following successful psychotherapy, such as exposure therapy, improves therapeutic effectiveness, possibly by strengthening new non-fearful memory traces established during therapy. These findings offer an important non-invasive alternative to recent attempts to facilitate therapeutic memory extinction and consolidation processes with pharmacological or behavioral interventions.

Copyright

Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: B. Kleim, Ph.D., Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Zurich, Binzmühlestrasse 14, Box 26, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland. (Email: b.kleim@psychologie.uzh.ch)

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Keywords

Sleep enhances exposure therapy

  • B. Kleim (a1), F. H. Wilhelm (a2), L. Temp (a3), J. Margraf (a4), B. K. Wiederhold (a5) (a6) and B. Rasch (a7)...

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