Bad Dreams Serve a Purpose

No one really likes a bad dream, but according to new research they help us to better handle real life fear.

Researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), Switzerland, – working in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin (USA) – analysed the dreams of a number of people and identified which areas of the brain were activated when they experienced fear in their dreams. They found that once the individuals woke up, the brain areas responsible for controlling emotions responded to fear-inducing situations much more effectively.

Their results could pave the way for new dream-based therapeutic methods for combating anxiety.  They also demonstrate the very strong link between the emotions we feel in both sleep and wakefulness. Essentially, we simulate frightening situations while dreaming in order to better react to them once we’re awake.

“Dreams may be considered as a real training for our future reactions and may potentially prepare us to face real life dangers,” suggests Perogamvros.

Following the revelation of a potential function of dreams, the researchers are now planning to study a new form of dream therapy to treat anxiety disorders. They are also interested in nightmares, because – unlike bad dreams, in which the level of fear is moderate – nightmares are characterized by an excessive level of fear that disrupts sleep and has a negative impact on the individual once awake.

“We believe that if a certain threshold of fear is exceeded in a dream, it loses its beneficial role as an emotional regulator,” concludes Perogamvros.