Nightmares are not evil

  With the spread of the new crown pneumonia epidemic, a new phenomenon has emerged-people have begun to have some weird dreams. Concerns about the lockdown policy, relatives, and their own health are mixed with some other thoughts, causing many people to dream about it at midnight and feel extremely distressed.
  Rachel Ho, a PhD student at McMaster University in Canada, said that for those who are fighting on the front line of the epidemic, such as doctors and nurses, they have been under “chronic stress” since the beginning of last year. Stressful events that last for months or even years and have widespread effects are rare—in modern times, only war can be compared with them—and we know that chronic stress has a great impact on cognitive function.
  People who have been under stress for a long time are more likely to have nightmares. A study of 10 to 12-year-old students in the Gaza Strip found that more than half of the students have frequent nightmares, an average of more than four times a week. He said that children are more susceptible because their brains are still developing.
  Joanne Davis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Tulsa in the United States, said that although nightmares are closely related to a series of mental illnesses, some vivid dreams can help us deal with the emotions of the previous day. Understanding the causes of nightmares is of great help in treating patients who have experienced trauma.
| Nightmare is protecting us |

  Psychologists like Davis are studying the relationship between dreams and mental disorders, and the importance of the two in stabilizing emotions in a healthy state.
  When we sleep, we organize and archive the memories of the previous day, sort out and adjust the memories of the past. Researchers believe that this process is going on throughout sleep, but emotional memory is archived during REM sleep. These memories then became the subject of dreams.
  Nightmares may play a protective role when people are awake. The hypothesis of “forgetting through sleep, and memory through sleep” believes that REM sleep will strengthen emotional memory and archive it, so when we encounter similar situations later, our emotional response will be weakened. For example, if your boss scolded you today, and you dreamed about it in the evening, then next time you see your boss, your emotional reaction to the scolding will not be so strong.
  The dream we have can help us control our emotions. This idea is very interesting, but how to prove it?
  During REM sleep, the hippocampus and amygdala are very active. The former is the area in the brain responsible for combing and storing memories, while the latter is the area responsible for processing emotions. Researchers believe that vivid, emotionally rich and impressive dreams during REM sleep indicate that our brains are storing memories and tearing away emotional labels.
  After having a nightmare, the areas of the brain that deal with fear will be more active, as if these dreams have given us training in advance to deal with fear. The longer people feel scared in their dreams, the lower their emotional centers will be awakened when they encounter stressful situations. The amygdala may need to be adjusted during the dreaming period to help us throw away the emotional baggage of the previous day and prepare for the restart the next day. A study of high-stress office workers showed that the body’s cortisol (hormone responsible for regulating stress) levels are highest in the morning, which means that we can better cope with stress in the morning. Although the amygdala does not produce cortisol, stress can be detected.
  During REM sleep, the hippocampus, amygdala, and neocortex of the brain produce slow, low-frequency theta waves (a brain wave). Research on mice found that those mice that need to complete unpleasant tasks increase REM sleep and produce more theta waves.
  Daniela Popa, a neuroscientist at the Department of Biology of the Normal University of Paris, participated in a series of stress-induced studies and found that if these mice encounter the same stress again, the same brain area will be reactivated, which means REM sleep And theta waves have a lot to do with the long-term storage and processing of unhappy memories. However, Popa pointed out that it is difficult to find the storage location of non-emotional memory in the mouse brain, because there is no way to know what the mouse is thinking.

  The patient will write down his own nightmare based on the memory, or write down the nightmare and give it a new ending.
| How to deal with nightmares? |

  Sometimes nightmares are good, but long-term nightmares are another matter. “It’s like the process of dreaming is stuck.” Davis said, “The brain may be preparing to deal with this emotional event, but you wake up midway, so there is no way to continue.”
  ”If you have long-term nightmares. , It will become a habit.” Davis said that she has encountered patients who have been having nightmares for decades without seeking help. “Because of fear of nightmares, patients may try not to sleep or try to fall asleep as soon as possible.”
  Davis mainly uses exposure, relaxation and rewriting therapies to treat trauma survivors, including veterans, active military personnel, and people with bipolar disorder. Children and adults. In this treatment method, the patient will write down his nightmare based on the memory (“exposure”), or write down the nightmare and give it a new ending (“rewrite”).
  After rewriting treatment, the nightmare may not develop according to the ending of the rewriting, but the patient may no longer have the nightmare, or although he still has the nightmare, its influence will be reduced and the dream will become blurred. After that, the frequency of nightmares will decrease and gradually disappear. “It’s as if you have completed this process during the day, and you don’t have to do it again at night,” Davis said.
  Davis believes that treating nightmares is very important. “Decades ago, we felt that nightmares were a manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, our understanding of nightmares has fundamentally changed. Nightmares are actually manifestations of many problems. If you cure a nightmare, you can cure it. Many other problems, such as depression and drug abuse.”
  Davis said that nightmares are an early manifestation of some problems. On the night after a major event, or five to seven days later, people may have some very emotional dreams. Penny Lewis, a professor of psychology at Cardiff University, and her colleagues believe that we store memories of the day immediately every day, but events that are of great personal significance do not necessarily appear in dreams on the same day.
  Teaching people who have long-term nightmares to do “lucid dreams” (image rehearsal therapy) can also reduce the frequency of nightmares. Although researchers still don’t know the mechanism of this therapy, it is very effective in small-scale experiments. However, the focus of all these methods is how to let patients sleep all night and avoid waking up halfway, so that their brains can rest to improve cognitive function.
  Although in recent years the understanding of the causes of nightmares has gradually deepened and treatment methods have also improved, since the outbreak of the new coronary pneumonia, strict lockdown measures have brought new challenges to patients undergoing treatment.
  A small French survey showed that among the patients who received image rehearsal treatment, two-thirds of the patients had relapses during the new coronary pneumonia epidemic. These patients have undergone four years of treatment and have already succeeded in reducing the frequency of nightmares (from almost every night to about twice a week). But in 2020, these patients will have an average of 19 nightmares per month.
  Neuroscientists at the University of Lyon Benjamin Putois, Caroline Siro, and Wendy Leslie wrote in an article that during the crisis “the frequency of nightmares has increased, indicating that traumatic memories are reactivated. It also shows the need for a higher level of emotional management.”
  So next time if you have a nightmare, your brain is tearing off the emotional label and regulating the emotions caused by stress. Davis said that unless nightmares occur frequently or have already affected your health, you don’t need to worry too much. For most people, it’s good to have nightmares occasionally.

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