Link Between Sleep and Fear

Madison Gilbertson

Could there possibly be a link between the amount of sleep we receive at night and our reaction to fear? An article by Michael Y. Park in Live Science entitled “Scared? Your Sleep Quality Could Be to Blame” looks at this very question. The article focuses most specifically on Rapid Eye Movement sleep, commonly known as REM. There are several stages of sleep. Stages one, two and three are included in what is call non-REM sleep and the last stage is REM sleep. Park discusses evidence in the article that suggests that individuals who get more REM sleep have less activity in areas of the brain that have been linked to fear. These findings might suggest that REM sleep may be capable of altering areas of the brain that communicate with one another in regard to fear. In other words, fear reactivity would be kept lower in people who have a higher proportion of REM sleep. This could have important clinical implications, especially regarding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Park’s article on REM sleep and fear networks may represent an important component in better understanding the relationship between REM and PTSD. In the future, it might be possible to examine how much REM sleep a person gets and from that be able to gauge how resilient that individual will be in the face of trauma. It might also be possible to know how likely it is that individuals will develop PTSD after that trauma. This research might help us in the future to decide who is fit for high stress jobs based on sleep patterns. The article also poses several interesting questions. One interesting question is whether there is such thing as a REM “sweet spot” and if too little or too much REM sleep might both actually raise a person’s risk of PTSD. Too much REM might very well be a plausible issue given that there is a link between PTSD and intense nightmares that occur during REM sleep. Another question that comes to mind is causality. Although it seems simple to just be able to state that low amounts of REM sleep could cause PTSD, it’s also just as likely that having PTSD symptoms, such as reoccurring nightmares, could result in less sleep to begin with. We then find ourselves with the classic question of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Either way, this research is a prime example of how important it is to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

Park, M. Y. (2017, October 23). Scared? Your Sleep Quality Could Be to Blame. Retrieved from

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