Study Reveals Nightmares Help Prepare People for Real Anxiety-Inducing Situations

Nightmares are no fun, but a new international study finds all that nighttime fear may actually be serving a greater purpose. Researchers from both Switzerland and the United States identified the areas of the brain that were activated while a group of participants experienced fear in their dreams. Interestingly, they discovered that after the participants woke up, those same emotion-regulating brain areas responded to scary situations much more efficiently.

All in all, the research team believe their findings lend credence to the theory that dreams actually help our brains prepare to tackle real world stressful situations. Consequently, this research opens the door for a multitude of new dream-based therapeutic methods for treating anxiety.

Dreams have become a popular topic of research in neuroscience circles, more specifically the areas of the brain that activate as we doze off. Just recently it was discovered that certain brain areas are responsible for the formation of dreams. Furthermore, different brain regions are only activated depending on the type of dream one is experiencing. For example, the thoughts, emotions, and perceptions that a singular dream may incite.

“We were particularly interested in fear: what areas of our brain are activated when we’re having bad dreams?” states researcher Lampros Perogamvros, of both the University of Geneva and University Hospitals of Geneva, in a release.

For the research, 18 participants were gathered for a sleep experiment. After being fitted with EEG electrodes, in order to measure brain activity, the participants were woken from their slumber multiple times over the course of a night. Each time they were greeted by a series of questions like: “Did you dream? And, if so, did you feel scared?”

“By analyzing the brain activity based on participants’ responses, we identified two brain regions implicated in the induction of fear experienced during the dream: the insula and the cingulate cortex”, Perogamvros explains.

The insula is also involved in emotion evaluation and regulation while we’re awake, and automatically activates whenever we start to feel afraid. The cingulate cortex, on the other hand, helps control reactions during threatening situations.

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SOURCE: Study Finds, John Anderer