The Sleep Phase Where You Dream May Make You Less Prone To Fear

Better get those Zs.
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This gives a whole new meaning to the term “sweet dreams.”

A new study shows that rapid eye movement, the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs, may help the brain better respond to stressful situations.

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that people who spent more time in REM sleep during the night showed lower fear-related brain activity when exposed to mild electric shocks the following day. The results suggest that getting good REM sleep can help protect a person from “enhanced fear,” the study authors wrote. This means better REM sleep may make people less prone to trauma or fear-related health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers aren’t quite sure why this effect occurs, but they theorize it could have something to do with the production of norepinephrine (a hormone associated with stress), Time reports. The hormone can affect the amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain, making you more sensitive to stimuli that cause fear.

The study authors told the publication that the area of the brain that releases norepinephrine takes a break during REM. They also believe REM sleep can reset the build up of norepinephrine to normal levels.

The study is far from the first to reveal the benefits of a good night’s rest, particularly the importance of REM. Previous studies have found that the REM stage of sleep produces cognitive benefits needed to function when you’re awake.

“The pattern of brain activity [during REM] is remarkably similar to the wake stage. It’s quite active,” Rebecca Robbins, a sleep and behavioral change researcher at NYU’s School of Medicine (who was not affiliated with the study), told HuffPost. “The brain waves look similar to when you’re sitting in a class and learning new material.”

Of course, all of this information is well and good but it means nothing if you can’t get a good night’s sleep. We culled research and Robbins’ advice on the best ways to optimize your sleep (including that REM stage). Here are some tips:

Do something boring before bed.

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Got chores? Do them, then get your Zs.

“Find some time to do whatever is relaxing to you,” Robbins said. “Or even do something mind-numbing. If you need to fold a pile of socks, maybe reserve that for right before you go to sleep.”

Adjust the temperature.

Experts say the ideal temperature for sleep is around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because cooler climates can lead to a dip in your body temperature, which can prompt tiredness.

Transform your bedroom into place you actually want to sleep.

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It doesn’t take a lot to make your room a sleep sanctuary. A few adjustments like blackout curtains and comfortable bedding and pillows can make a huge difference, Robbins said.

“Making your bedroom more relaxing or luxurious so that you walk in and it’s instantly soothing is a great way to implement healthier sleep habits,” she said.

Don’t hit the snooze button.

Whatever you do, avoid that snooze button. Robbins said you’re not doing yourself any favors by hitting it. Instead you’re fragmenting your sleep, and it could result in feeling even more groggy than you would if you just get out of bed at your normal time.

Keep a consistent sleep schedule.

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Changing when you hit the sack and when you get out of it can throw your circadian rhythm out of whack, Robbins said. And don’t skimp on those six to eight hours of Zs.

“There’s no pill or no secret cure for consolidating the benefits we derive from sleep into a shorter period of time,” Robbins said. “We need the time to allow our bodies to move through the different stages of sleep as it naturally does to operate at our peak.”

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