Nightmares help deal with negative thoughts and feelings

Can nightmares be good for us? A team of researchers from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, led by Virginie Sterpenich, has examined the issue. The scientists wanted to find out how fear experiences affect us. According to the new study, anxious situations during sleep help us deal with negative thoughts and feelings while we are awake. Bad dreams can quasi “train” our brain so that we can process everyday problems better.

Thanks to nightmares, we learn to deal with negative thoughts and feelings while we are awake

Nightmares help us deal with negative thoughts and feelings

The scientists observed 18 test subjects sleeping and performed a sleep EEG in a sleep laboratory. Their brain activity was measured with electroencephalography. The researchers woke the participants after each dream phase and asked them about their dreams. This enabled the scientists to identify the areas of the brain that are active during nightmares. The insula and the cingulate cortex are supposed to regulate the fearful experiences in dreams. The same areas in the brain regulate our anxiety when we are awake. The cingulate cortex is responsible for directing our reactions to danger.

A second experiment was carried out. 89 subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire every morning. After one week, all participants were examined with magnetic resonance imaging. When they examined them, they looked at different images, some of them neutral, others terrifying.

Nightmares are signs of negative thoughts and feelings

After evaluating the results of the study and the experiment, the researchers were able to establish a clear connection between nightmares and fear in everyday situations. People who had bad dreams in the test week were less alarmed by the pictures than people who had no or good dreams. The researchers assume that we prepare for everyday situations in dreams. The prefrontal cortex, for example, ensures that we can react despite fear.

Learning to deal with negative thoughts and feelings: when are nightmares dangerous?

Learning to deal with negative thoughts has nightmares

So if you have a nightmare every now and then, there is nothing to worry about. Even if the bad dream is very realistic. It is worrying, however, when the nightmare triggers excessive feelings of fear. The scientists assume that it will then lose its function as a regulator and that it will be something else. Being very anxious can be a sign of certain illnesses. Even more so – dreams can reflect specific symptoms. It can also be triggered by pain that occurs during sleep. People with anxiety often report nightmares, but scientists assume that they process certain feelings while they sleep.

The researchers from the University of Geneva would like to soon find out what function positive dreams fulfill.

About the study

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