Sleep Could Help People Get Over Fear Of Spiders: Study

Trying to get over a fear of spiders? New research study suggests sleep could help facilitate the process.

A new, small study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research shows that sleeping after exposure therapy for spider phobia seems to make the therapy more effective, the Harvard Gazette reported.

The study included 66 women who all watched this video of a spider 14 times. The women were randomly assigned to different groups to watch the video every two hours or every 12 hours, and either in the morning or evening, or after spending a night sleeping or a full day awake. The researchers also measured the study participants' palm sweat when they sounded off a loud noise during some of the videos.

The researchers found that the women who managed to get a night's rest after watching the spider videos, before being shown the spiders again, were also less likely to rate the spider high on a scale of "fearfulness, disgust, and unpleasantness," the Harvard Gazette reported. Meanwhile, those who stayed up for 12 hours after watching the spider videos and were then shown the videos again at the end of the day had a stronger stress response to the spiders.

Researchers, however, didn't find a difference in reaction to the spiders between those who watched the videos in the morning or the evening.

"Thus, sleep following exposure therapy may promote retention and generalization of extinction learning," the researchers wrote in the study.

The researchers noted that REM sleep in particular could be responsible for the effect.

Recently, a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study showed that severely arachnophobic adults who underwent just one session of therapy experienced brain changes that resulted in them being able to hold a tarantula in their hands -- and the effect lasted six months after the therapy session.

"Before treatment, some of these participants wouldn't walk on grass for fear of spiders or would stay out of their home or dorm room for days if they thought a spider was present," study researcher Katherina Hauner, post-doctoral fellow in neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.

"But after a two or three-hour treatment, they were able to walk right up and touch or hold a tarantula. And they could still touch it after six months," Hauner said.

However you do it, though, it may be better for your health to get over your phobias. A recent study from Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers found that having a phobic anxiety -- which includes fear of spiders, as well as social phobias -- can make you age faster biologically.