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Edward Franz Pace-Schott, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, delivers a fascinating auditory exploration of the many issues surrounding sleep, trauma, and anxiety.

Pace-Schott has spent the better part of his notable career studying anxiety and sleep related disorders. Pace-Schott’s extensive research centers on how sleep assists humans in the regulation of their emotions and how sleep is altered in psychopathology. He is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School as well as the Director of the Sleep and Anxiety Disorders Laboratory. Pace-Schott holds a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience, earned at the prestigious Boston University.

The PhD discusses how sleep disturbance increases the risk of developing anxiety disorders. Studying people across the entire spectrum of psychological trauma, Pace-Schott looks at participants’ sleep, as well as behavioral responses to emotional memory experiments known as fear extinction and fear conditioning. By studying sleep after traumatic experiences Pace-Schott is learning more about the impact of sleep on the mental and physical. Persistent sleep disturbances can put someone at a heightened risk for developing post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Pace-Schott details various shock-oriented experimentation that relates to fear response, called fear conditioning, citing examples such as how one might be afraid of a dark street if they had previously been attacked by a dog on a dark street. Additionally, his team utilizes experimentation techniques with fear extinction. He explains that when subjects are presented with a situation that has caused fear in the past, but now without the dreadful consequences, over time the reaction to that fear situation is decreased. Extinction, as Pace-Schott explains, creates a new inhibitory memory, that then reminds the person that this situation is not to be feared.

The sleep expert talks about ways to utilize sleep to strengthen the extinction memory, to bolster this within traumatized or phobic individuals. He details various experimentation in this area and how these issues affect the individuals. As he explains, sleep helps to increase the participants’ ability to feel less fear about previously feared subjects. Testing provides information on the brain, body, and emotions, and the expression of circadian rhythms.

They found that participants seemed to do better in the morning after restorative sleep, and retention of extinction learning. Pace-Schott’s research is highly focused on sleep’s influences on evolutionary ancient learning and the myriad memory processes that contribute to human emotion regulation.

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