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Sleep Can Help Overcome Painful Memories, According To Study

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Sleep Can Help Overcome Painful Memories, According To Study

Time heals all wounds says an old proverb, but sleeping can help also, according to a new study from University of California, Berkley. Scientists are more closer to discerning the mystery regarding how the brain deals with unpleasant or traumatic memories during sleep.

Most people deal with traumatic events in a time of their lives. For some, they have a greater impact and can lead to posttraumatic stress, making them emotionally vulnerable for a long period time.

Scientists say that there is significant evidence showing that about 20% of the time in which we sleep, during the process of rapid eye movement (REM sleep), the dream stage, in the brain processes with a role in recent memory processing occur. Therefore, they believe that a better understanding of this phenomenon could help patients suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.

REM sleep

REM sleep

In order to analyze the situation, researchers at the University of California have developed a study that was based on a group of 35 volunteers which were divided between two groups. After being shown a series of 150 images chosen primarily to provoke emotional reactions, only members of one group were allowed to sleep.

Subsequently, the participants were shown and the same images, only this time an MRI scanner monitored the blood flow in the brain. Those who sleep showed a low activity in the amygdala of the brain, part of the brain associated with emotions, and an increased activity of the prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for rational thinking. In contrast, those who were awake showed a much higher emotional level when they were shown images for the second time.

Scientists believe that chemical changes that occur in the brain during REM phase (rapid eye movement) could help them understand how the body makes these changes.

During REM sleep phase (when a person dreams) , a drop in the level of norepinephrine occurs in the brain, a chemical associated with stress. Processing these emotional experiences earlier in this environment with low norepinephrine, made the subjects wake up the next day and realize that emotions have become weaker.