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Dreams & Emotions

December 6, 2011

REM sleep, in which dreams occur, also may help take the edge off painful memories.



Dreaming away the pain.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bad experiences often feel less painful after a good night’s sleep.  That’s no coincidence, according to neuroscientist Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley.  He and his colleagues showed emotionally charged images to volunteers at two different times.  Those who slept in between the viewings had milder emotional responses the second time around.  The crucial factor was a kind of sleep called REM sleep, which is linked to dreaming.

MATTHEW WALKER (University of California, Berkeley):

The quality of that sleep accurately predicted how much of a dissipation in the emotional reaction you would have the next morning.

Looking closer, he found evidence that REM sleep helps the brain re-processes emotional memories, without the stress-related brain chemicals that accompany them while we’re awake.  The findings could lead to better treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, which is also linked to poor REM sleep.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.