I recently read an article about the power that dreams have to reduce stress. Dream researchers at UC Berkley recently published this research in the journal Current Biology that notes that dreaming can help a person cope with distressing memories and decrease the emotional intensity in reaction to past event.
This is the first time that a study has proven that dreams have power to help those suffering from memories of intense emotional experiences, such as PTSD. Els van der Helm, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study, notes that, “It’s the first to look at REM sleep in such a sophisticated way. It aids therapies not only for (post-traumatic stress disorder) but also mood disorders.” The study purports that REM sleep creates an ideal environment for the brain to process & deal with these emotional obstacles. The study showed that the “aggressive reactionary forces” of the brain’s emotional center, the Amygdala, decreased with REM sleep. This allowed for the more rational part of the brain to take control of these painful memories and process them in a more rational fashion. 

The study consisted of images chosen to invoke intense emotional reactions which were shown to 35 adult participants with a 12 hour lapse in between. The participants who were allowed to sleep and dream during this 12 hour period were less likely to have an intense reaction to the images the second time around compared with those who were not allowed a chance to sleep and dream.

This study is particularly interesting as it pertains to the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a variety of other mood disorder. Currently sleep abnormalities are part of the diagnostic criteria of PTSD, but often goes untreated after diagnosis. With this information, those suffering from PTSD may have further hope of recovery through the use of dreams and REM sleep. 

If you are interested in learning more about this study, please see the article in the Daily Californian, UC Berkley’s newspaper, and the published study in Current Biology.