When a physician at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in the Seattle noticed a blood pressure drug was preventing recurring nightmares a UC Berkeley researcher got interested in why. Turns out the drug suppresses the neurotransmitter norepinephrine and that during REM sleep norepinephrine goes down so that the brain can process painful memories in order to take the edge off them the next day. So in the REM sleep state it appears the brain processes emotionally difficult experiences to enable you to better handle these memories the next day.
They say time heals all wounds, and new research from the University of California, Berkeley, indicates that time spent in dream sleep can help.
UC Berkeley researchers have found that during the dream phase of sleep, also known as REM sleep, our stress chemistry shuts down and the brain processes emotional experiences and takes the painful edge off difficult memories.
The findings offer a compelling explanation for why people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as war veterans, have a hard time recovering from painful experiences and suffer reoccurring nightmares.They also offer clues into why we dream.
"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 Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study to be published this Wednesday, Nov. 23, in the journal Current Biology.