Formation and maintenance of fear-extinction memories are disrupted in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders. Sleep contributes to emotional memory consolidation and emotion regulation. Insomnia Disorder (ID) is characterized by persistent sleep disturbance as well as REM sleep abnormalities and often precedes or develops in parallel with PTSD and anxiety disorders. Here we explore the impact of chronic poor sleep and sleep immediately following fear conditioning and extinction learning on preservation of extinction memories.
24 ID age- and sex-matched to 24 healthy, good sleeper controls (GS) completed up to two weeks of habitual sleep monitoring with daily sleep-wake diaries and actigraphy, and then participated in a two-session fear conditioning, extinction learning and extinction recall procedure. Fear Conditioning and Extinction Learning occurred during session 1, followed by Extinction Recall approximately 24h later. Skin-conductance responses (SCR) and shock expectancies were recorded throughout all experimental phases to evaluate associative learning and memory. Overnight sleep between sessions 1 and 2 was recorded using ambulatory polysomnography.
ID showed greater physiological reactivity during Fear Conditioning. REM sleep physiology was associated with poorer extinction memory in ID but better extinction memory in GS.
REM sleep physiology may differentially support emotional memory retention and expression in ID and GS. In the former, REM may enhance retention of fear memories, while in the later, REM may enhance the expression of extinction memories.

© Sleep Research Society 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Sleep Research Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail