We’ve all heard of ‘restful’ sleep . . . but what about ‘healing’ sleep? Is it possible that dreaming could help reduce the pain of traumatic memories?
Researchers at UC Berkeley have found that when dreams occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, our stress responses shut down, and the neurochemicals responsible for stressful feelings stop being released. Not only this, but REM helps reduce the negative effects of difficult memories.
“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,” said Matter Walker, PhD, the senior author of the study that was published in November in Current Biology.
For people with PTSD, this nightly de-stress function may not be properly working. Their emotional experience to their trauma is never successfully separated from their memory during sleep, which is one reason why they can have strong visceral reactions to flashbacks. Dreams normally provide perspective and understanding of daily experiences by reprocessing what has happened while in a low stress state.
One neurochemical, in particular, the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, is significantly decreased in the brain allowing REM sleep to work its magic. This is important because it gives dreams a low stress atmosphere to process our emotional experiences.
Dr. Walker made the connection between REM sleep and PTSD when he found that a generic blood pressure medication was helping people with PTSD get better sleep with less reoccurring nightmares. One side effect of the drug is a decrease in norepinephrine. When Dr. Walker put this together he realized the potential for REM sleep.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about a scientific study that looks specifically at REM sleep and reduced emotional reactivity.
But first, if you’d like to know more about the healing properties of sleep and what it can do for your patients, we have a gift prepared for you.
In “7 Ways Inadequate Sleep Negatively Impacts Health,” you’ll hear from Rubin Naiman, PhD – one of the leading sleep specialists in the country.
Because sleep is such an important part of physical and mental health, we’re making this special report available to you free of charge.
I hope you enjoy it.
But before you do, please leave a comment and let us know what you’ve observed – have your patients reported improvements in health after a good night’s sleep?