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December 01, 2019

Bad dreams may help you deal with your fear, study says

Wellness Dreams
Bad dreams benefit emotions Pixaby/Pexels

A study published in Human Brain Mapping found that having bad dreams and experiencing fear or anxiety may lead to an adapted emotional response while awake.

Bad dreams may not exactly be fun, but it may help you deal with the stressors in your everyday life, a new study says.

A study published in Human Brain Mapping examined the correlation between fear from bad dreams and what kind of affect it has on participants while they were awake. Researchers looked at this process in two parts. 

Researchers first examined 18 participants to monitor fear activation areas in the brain while they slept. The participants were woken up in 20-minute intervals and asked what they were thinking about prior to the alarm. The participants also noted any emotion that came to mind, such as anger, anxiety or fear. 

Researchers found two areas were activated when a bad dream was present. This includes the insula, an area associated with subjective emotional experience, and the midcingulate cortex, an area associated with motor activation during a fear response. 

Researchers then conducted a second study with 89 participants to measure fear in wakefulness.  The brain was monitored using a fMRI machine. Through three separate studies, participants were shown images at random that were either neutral or aversive in nature. Prior to the study, they were asked to journal their dreams for a week and asked to fill out mini-questionnaires about their sleep quality, anxiety, and sleepiness. 

Researchers consistently found that participants adapted better to the aversive stimuli while awake when the participants had experienced bad dreams. In fact, researchers also found their insula was not as activated as those who reported less bad dreams.

While bad dreams may cause you to wake up in a sweat sometimes, fearing what's to come the next day, just know that these findings suggest these dreams do help us deal with our real life situations.

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