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The Functional Role of Dreaming in Emotional Processes.


ABSTRACT: Dream experience (DE) represents a fascinating condition linked to emotional processes and the human inner world. Although the overlap between REM sleep and dreaming has been overcome, several studies point out that emotional and perceptually vivid contents are more frequent when reported upon awakenings from this sleep stage. Actually, it is well-known that REM sleep plays a pivotal role in the processing of salient and emotional waking-life experiences, strongly contributing to the emotional memory consolidation. In this vein, we highlighted that, to some extent, neuroimaging studies showed that the processes that regulate dreaming and emotional salience in sleep mentation share similar neural substrates of those controlling emotions during wakefulness. Furthermore, the research on EEG correlates of the presence/absence of DE and the results on EEG pattern related to the incorporated memories converged to assign a crucial role of REM theta oscillations in emotional re-processing. In particular, the theta activity is involved in memory processes during REM sleep as well as during the waking state, in line with the continuity hypothesis. Also, the gamma activity seems to be related to emotional processes and dream recall as well as to lucid dreams. Interestingly, similar EEG correlates of DE have been found in clinical samples when nightmares or dreams occur. Research on clinical samples revealed that promoting the rehearsal of frightening contents aimed to change them is a promising method to treat nightmares, and that lucid dreams are associated with an attenuation of nightmares. In this view, DE can defuse emotional traumatic memories when the emotional regulation and the fear extinction mechanisms are compromised by traumatic and frightening events. Finally, dreams could represent a sort of simulation of reality, providing the possibility to create a new scenario with emotional mastery elements to cope with dysphoric items included in nightmares. In addition, it could be hypothesized that the insertion of bizarre items besides traumatic memories might be functional to "impoverish" the negative charge of the experiences.

SUBMITTER: Scarpelli S 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6428732 | BioStudies | 2019-01-01

SECONDARY ACCESSION(S): 10.11588/heidok.00008425

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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