November 30, 2011

Sleep is Therapy

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Dreaming provides emotional relief

(dailyRx News) Have you ever gone to bed upset or angry, yet woken up refreshed in the morning? Or watched a young child throw a bedtime tantrum, only to awaken peacefully and pleasantly?

Humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping, yet sleep's healing effects are often underestimated. Researchers at UC Berkeley observed thirty-five healthy, young adults and found that those who sleep after an emotional experience tend to awaken more rational.

"A good night of rest can help heal emotional trauma."

Published in the journal Current Biology, the study divided the participants into two groups instructed to view 150 emotion-provoking images on two separate occasions. Half viewed photos in the morning and twelve hours later that day, while the others slept in between viewings, seeing the images first at night and then the following morning. An MRI scanner measured brain activity.

The brain images of participants viewing the images after sleeping depicted a significant decrease in activity in the brain's emotion center, the amygdala. Participants confirmed this finding, reporting a dramatic difference in their reactions the second go-around.

Co-author of the study and assistant professor at Berkeley, Matthew Walker, explained for college news sources, "the dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy, a soothing balm that removes the sharp edges from the prior day’s emotional experiences."

Walker continued, “we know that during REM sleep there is a sharp decrease in levels of norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with stress. By reprocessing previous emotional experiences in this neuro-chemically safe environment of low norepinephrine during REM sleep, we wake up the next day, and those experiences have been softened in their emotional strength."

Unfortunately for people with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, REM sleep may not function properly. Walker states that in the case of PTSD, when a “flashback is triggered by, say, a car backfiring, they relive the whole visceral experience once again because the emotion has not been properly stripped away from the memory during sleep.”

If you or a loved one suffers from continual sleep deprivation, exhaustion, or any other dream disturbance, talk with a health professional about the right treatment to improve your sleep.

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Last Updated:
November 30, 2011