Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Soothes Painful Memories: Study
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, when people dream, may heal the pain caused by painful memories, according to new research.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that during the dream phase of sleep, our stress chemistry shuts down and the brain processes emotional experiences and takes the painful edge off difficult memories.
The findings shed light on why people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as war veterans, struggle to recover from painful experiences and suffer recurring nightmares.
Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study, explained, "The dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy,” WebMD reports.
He said the process acts as “a soothing balm that removes the sharp edges from the prior day's emotional experiences.”
Walker said this overnight therapy for people with PTSD may not be working effectively, so 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,” reports WebMD.