Can Sleep Cure Your Phobia?

Can Sleep Cure Your Phobia? 

National Geographic. com this week, speaks to Katerina Hauner a neuroscientist at Northwestern University in Chicago around new studies on sleep, fear and memory.


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Katerina recently completed with healthy adults. In this experiment participants had loom at pictures of neural (expressionless) faces., while having a mild electric shock, which as we know from experiments such as Pavlos famous dog experiment creates an anchor or conditioning. IE the adults associated fear with the images they looked at.

As well as the electric shock, the experimenters add a second stimulus – smell, during this fear conditioning. Each face was associated with a neutral smell, like mint or lemon, now both the faces and the smells became associated with the fear.

They allowed the subjects to sleep, once asleep the subjects were exposed to one of the smells to initiate the process of fear extinction. Fear extinction is based on the therapy that is you expose yourself to your phobia enough times, the fear decreases.

When the subjects woke after being exposed to the smell during sleep they were once again shown the pictures of the neutral faces. The subjects shown less fear compared to before they were asleep. Through MRI scans, the scientist found that there were decreased responses in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that deals with processing memories. And also changes in patterns of activity in the amygdala, which is associated with fear.

Potentially phobics may be cured by connecting a smell to an image (IE a picture of a spider) and use this smell to treat the phobia during sleep. Future experiments are due to take place.

Read more about this new and exciting research on phobias at the articles source: Sleep Away Your Phobia 

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