Ever have to make a big decision, only to be told to "sleep on it"? There could be some wisdom in that--a study published in the journal Current Biology suggests one benefit of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is stress relief. According to the researchers from the University of California--Berkeley, dreaming is one natural way we cope with stressful events.
Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study said, "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."
Studying 35 healthy young adults, the researchers set to find out just how strong an impact dreaming has on people. Divided into two groups, the participants were all made to look at two sets of photos. While both groups had a 12-hour interval in between the viewing of the photos, the first group was not allowed to sleep. On the other hand, the second group was able to get a good night’s sleep before looking at the photos again the next day.
Based on the Magnetic Resonance Imaging results, those who belonged to the latter group—the participants who were able to sleep before looking at the photos again—had decreased reactivity in the brain’s amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions. Moreover, through the use of electroencephalograms, the researchers were able to detect lesser stress neurochemicals in the brain.
"We know that during REM sleep there is a sharp decrease in levels of norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with stress," Walker said. "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. We feel better about them; we feel we can cope."
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(Photo by warmsleepy via Flickr Creative Commons)