Sleep deprivation in the first few hours after experiencing significant trauma may reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research.

A new study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, found that avoiding sleep for about six hours immediately after exposure to a traumatic event significantly reduces the risk of developing of post trauma-like behavioral responses, suggesting that sleep deprivation may be effective in preventing PTSD.

Researchers Professor Hagit Cohen, director of the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at Ben-Gurion University's health sciences facility, and Professor Joseph Zohar of Tel Aviv University experimented on rats by exposing rodents to predator scents to induce stress trauma.

Researchers found that rats that were not allowed to sleep after the stress exposure did not exhibit behavior indicating memory of the stressful event, while the control group of rats that were allowed to sleep after the stressful event appeared to remember past trauma and exhibited post trauma-like behavior in elevated plus-maze and acoustic startle response tests.

"Post-exposure SD effectively ameliorated long-term, stress-induced, PTSD-like behavioral disruptions, reduced trauma reminder freezing responses, and decreased hippocampal expression of GR compared with exposed-untreated controls," researchers wrote in the study.

About a fifth of people who've ever experienced a severe traumatic event like a car or work accident, terrorist attack or war are unable to function normally.

PTSD patients are able to recollect and relive the traumatic event for several years, leading to significant difficulties in the person's functioning in daily life and, in extreme cases, renders them completely dysfunctional.

"Often those close to someone exposed to a traumatic event, including medical teams, seek to relieve the distress and assume that it would be best if they could rest and 'sleep on it,'" Cohen said in a statement.  "Since memory is a significant component in the development of post-traumatic symptoms, we decided to examine the various effects of sleep deprivation immediately after exposure to trauma."

Researchers said that that intentionally preventing sleep in the early aftermath of stress exposure may be effective in reducing traumatic stress because sleep deprivation may play a role in disrupting the consolidation of stressful fear-inducing memories by decreasing activity in the hippocampus, an essential area of the brain responsible for memory.

Researchers hope to replicate the recent findings in people and are in the process of planning a pilot study based on humans.