Dreams allow us to make painful memories easier to bare
Sleep is a great healer. I know as someone who suffers from chronic pain that without a night’s sleep, never mind it being good or not, pain is even harder to deal with. It becomes almost magnified but it seems that sleep is not only a good healer for our physical pain but also our mental pains as well.
According to findings from some researchers at UC Berkeley it seems that when we enter a deep REM sleep, the kind usually associated with dreams, it actually shuts off the brain’s stress chemistry which helps soothe our painful memories.
Researcher Matthew Walker explains that the dream stage of sleep provides a kind of overnight therapy due to its unique neurochemical composition. It is like a soothing balm that takes away the rough edges from that day’s stressful and emotional experiences.
The one exception to this though appears to be people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; which they reason is because the psychological scars are so deep, and are so easily triggered by even mundane events that happen in our daily lives.
Walker also adds:
“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. We feel better about them, we feel we can cope. This study can help explain the mysteries of why these medications help some PTSD patients and their symptoms as well as their sleep. It may also unlock new treatment avenues regarding sleep and mental illness.”