Sleeping, dreaming proven to help process painful memories

Next time you go through a breakup, you might want to try sleeping instead of sleeping around. For those unclear on euphemisms, I actually mean sleeping, i.e. laying in bed (or wherever) in a state lacking a certain amount of consciousness (even with a robotic snuggle bear).

Researchers at UC Berkeley have recently discovered that sleeping, as opposed to having sex with whomever (but not the robotic snuggle bear, please), helps us overcome emotional ache caused by painful memories.

Els van der Helm, a doctoral student in psychology involved with the study, puts it like so: "During REM sleep, memories are being reactivated, put in perspective and connected and integrated, but in a state where stress neurochemicals are beneficially suppressed."

In other words, when you dream, you can view an event and experience it without the usual emotions getting in the way. To stick with our breakup example, if you've seen your ex with someone else, this way you can examine that without the urge to shout inappropriate things and beat your chest. Or, maybe that's not how everyone reacts.

Norepinephrine is the brain chemical most associated with stress, and during REM sleep (which is when you dream), the body sees a sharp decrease in this chemical, making sleep especially therapeutic.

To study this, researches split 35 people into two groups. They showed each the same emotion-triggering photos, then allowed one group to sleep. They showed each group the photos again. The electrical brain activity of each group was recorded with electroencephalograms (or EEG), including during sleep.

Those who slept showed a decrease in activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that processes emotion.

This could have incredible potential to find new treatment for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental illness, and, well, maybe it's just good advice for all of us, too.

Via UC Berkeley

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