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Fears Can Be Reduced During Sleep, Study Finds

Update Date: Sep 24, 2013 09:21 AM EDT

Smells could be used to calm fears while people sleep, a new study in the US finds.

People in the research were trained to associate two images which were linked to smells with fear.

During the sleep they were then exposed to one of those smells associated earlier. When they woke up they were less frightened of the image linked to that smell.

Praises have already started rolling in. A UK expert praised the Nature Neuroscience study and said it could help treat post-traumatic stress disorders as well as phobias to.

People who suffer from phobias are already being normally treated with “gradual exposure” therapy. In this they are exposed to the things they are frightened of in incremental degrees.

The research was conducted on 15 healthy people. They were shown the pictures of two different faces. At the same time they were given a mild electric shock. In addition they were also exposed to a specific smell of lemon, mint, clove and wood.

Then they were taken into a sleep lab. When they were in slow-wave sleep, they were exposed to a smell linked to one of the faces they had been shown.

Once they woke up, they were shown both faces, without scents or shocks. As a result they showed less fear when shown the face linked to the scent they had smelt while asleep than when shown the other face.

The effect was the strongest on people who slept for the longest duration.

“It’s a novel finding. We showed a small but significant decrease in fear. If it can be extended to pre-existing fear, the bigger picture is that, perhaps, the treatment of phobias can be enhanced during sleep, ” said Dr Katherina Hauner, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

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