May 29, 2023

The nightmares? A training to learn how to manage real fears

We all do it, even if many do not remember anything upon waking up: it seems that dreaming is a necessary activity for the brain. So much so that even having bad dreams would have its own why: this is supported by a Swiss study according to which they would be a sort of training to manage fears of real life, in order to better respond to situations that cause us anxiety when we are awake. The researchers first tried to understand what happens in the brain while dreaming, performing a high-density electroencephalogram (putting 256 electrodes on the skull instead of ten or so of the standard exam) on 18 volunteers who slept and were periodically woken up to know whether they were dreaming and what the nature of the dream activity was. A discreet discomfort that helped to identify two brain regions that light up when we experience anxiety in dreams: the insula, which when awake involved in the evaluation of emotions and is activated when we are afraid, and the cingulate cortex, which plays a role in behavior reaction to threats.

The mechanism

The areas that fear ignites, in the dream and when awake, are therefore similar; the next step was to try to understand whether being terrified while sleeping has repercussions during the day and so Lampros Perogamvros, the researcher at the University of Geneva who coordinated the investigation, gave just under a hundred volunteers sleep diaries to fill out for a week, to write down the emotions felt during dreams and if and when they had fearful dream experiences. Then, after putting them on an MRI, he showed them neutral or emotionally negative images and recorded how the brain was activated, especially in areas involved in managing emotions such as the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, the insula and the cortex. tracked.

The results

The longer one feels fear in dreams, the less the amygdala, insula and cingulate cortex are activated in the face of anxious images. The medial prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, which acts as a brake on the amygdala when we feel fear, lights up in proportion to the number of bad dreams: the more they have, the more it becomes active, says Perogamvros. THE dreams therefore could be some kind of training: we simulate terrifying situations while we sleep to prepare ourselves to face with greater cold blood the real dangers, which we encounter while awake. The researcher specifies why we don’t talk about the nightmares that wake us up in the middle of the night with our heart beating madly: Beyond a certain threshold of fear, the benefits of regulating emotions are lost, concludes Perogamvros.

22 October 2020 (change October 22, 2020 | 20:36)



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