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REM may hold a key for PTSD


During REM or dream phase sleep the body’s stress chemistry shuts down while the brain processes emotional experiences and eases the pain of difficult memories. According to new research from University of California (UC) Berkeley, this may explain why people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have nightmares and difficulty recovering from distressing experiences.

“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 senior author Matthew Walker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.

Their research could also provide new conclusions about why people dream at all, and about the possible benefits of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which forms 20% of total sleep time.

Walker suggests that people with PTSD continue to relive the experience of their trauma because their disrupted sleep is preventing them from processing the terror of the event. “The emotion has not been properly stripped away from the memory during sleep,” he explained.

Lead author Els van der Helm, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley broke it down, “During REM sleep, memories are being reactivated, put in perspective and connected and integrated, but in a state where stress neurochemicals are beneficially suppressed.”

REM sleep also is indicated by a drop in norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with stress. The fall in stress chemicals may sooth the emotional reactions that arise in processing the memories of what happened.

Source: Current Biology, MedicalNewsToday


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