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A new study suggests that bad dreams can prepare people for fear-causing situations.
In a study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva, the University Hospitals of Geneva in Switzerland, and the University of Wisconsin in the United States looked into the brains’ reaction to different types of dreams.
The scientists discovered that people who experience bad dreams react more effectively to frightening situations when awake.
The scientists subjected 18 participants to an experiment using a method called high-density electroencephalography (EEG), in which the subjects’ brain activities were monitored using electrodes placed on their skulls. Then, the scientists woke the participants up several times during the night and asked if the subjects experienced dreams and if these dreams involved fear.
After comparing the participants’ answers with their brain activity, the scientists found that specific areas of the brain that control emotions are activated depending on the nature of the dream.
To find out more about these brain areas and their roles, the scientists conducted another experiment with 89 participants who were asked to keep a week-long dream diary. Afterward, they were shown disturbing images while inside a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner. Based on the findings, the area of the brain regulating emotional responses to fear was more effective in participants who experienced bad dreams than in those who had a peaceful sleep.
The scientists concluded that bad dreams seem to be beneficial, and they hope the findings could help create new methods of dream-related therapies that can help people combat anxiety.
However, the scientists cautioned that once a bad dream becomes a terrible nightmare, the effects will be counterproductive because sleep will be interrupted.