Nightmares are a terrible experience. But they can help us deal with stress. A study by Swiss and American scientists shows that after bad dreams we are better prepared for the dangers of life. Stress is less of a problem.
The research reported by “dailymail.co.uk” and some of which was published in the specialist journal “Human Brain Mapping” is based on research into the sleep behavior of 18 test subjects and on the questioning of a further 89 people about their dreams. The brain activities of the sleepers were monitored with electrodes. If the scientists registered special rashes, the test subjects were woken up and asked about their dreams. The most important point was whether the study participants had just experienced fear while sleeping, i.e. whether they had a nightmare. The second study followed a similar principle, but here a dream diary was evaluated that the participants had kept themselves.
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Terrible images always stimulate certain areas of the brain
In the second phase of the experiment, the scientists confronted the test subjects with frightening images while they were awake. It was recorded which areas of the brain react in which way to the negative stimuli. The result was clear. For those who had previously had bad dreams, the brain reacted quickly and very efficiently to the frightening images while awake. It also turned out that the same brain regions were addressed. The explanation is as follows: “The insula releases our fear response in times of danger, while the cingulated cortex controls it.”
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What was particularly interesting for the researchers was that the brain’s reactions were apparently based on some kind of previous education from dreams. Virginie Sterpenich, neuroscientist at the University of Geneva, points out that the longer a test person experienced fear in their dreams, the less and more controlled the brain’s reactions to the negative images in the areas mentioned. In another area of the brain that is held responsible for suppressing fear, on the other hand, activities have increased. From this it can be concluded that nightmares could contribute to later coping with stress and dangerous situations. The brain is prepared, it can react appropriately to the danger.
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Nightmares torment the psyche
A terrible trauma that is experienced can preoccupy those affected more than they love to be. Some people deal with bad experiences quickly. Others, however, are still haunted by serious nightmares a long time later.
Bad nightmares weigh heavily on us
At the same time, the scientists make it clear that this positive effect has its limits. If there are harrowing nightmares, for example after traumatic experiences that led to insomnia and internal stress, a red line is crossed. Lampros Perogamvros, one of the main authors of the study, put it: “We believe that if a certain threshold of fear is exceeded in the dream, it loses its positive role as an emotional regulator.”
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