An international research team has succeeded in identifying the brain mechanisms that give rise to nightmares. The results of the study will help to better understand the emotions experienced in dreams.
We wake up with a start and sometimes it takes us a while to understand that it was just a bad dream. But what exactly happens in our brain when we have a nightmare?
Trying to give an answer today are researchers from the University of Turku, in Finland, from the University of Skövde in Sweden and from the British University of Cambridge, who in their study, just published in the Journal of Neuroscience, say they have finally discovered the neural signature of nightmares.
More precisely, the researchers were able to identify the brain mechanisms that predict the anger we experience during bad dreams. And this could potentially help us better understand the neural basis of the emotions we experience during sleep.
So far, we specify, few studies have succeeded in analyzing which brain mechanisms were at the base of the affective component of dreams and nightmares. In this research, on the other hand, the team of researchers, led by Pilleriin Sikka, succeeded in discovering an emotional mechanism shared between the two states of consciousness, namely waking and sleeping.
To find out, they performed the electroencephalogram on 17 volunteers during two nights. After five minutes of sleep (rapid eye movement), the phase of sleep known to be accompanied by dreams, the participants were awakened and asked to describe what they were dreaming. Furthermore, the researchers asked them to evaluate the emotions experienced while they slept.
From the analysis it emerged that the participants who showed, during the half awake and during the REM sleep, a greater cerebral activity of alpha waves (typical of the waking state and the moments preceding the sleep) in the right area of the brain compared to the left one , they also experienced a greater feeling of anger in dreams.
This neural signature, called frontal alpha asymmetry (Faa), previously associated with the regulation of emotions in the waking state, has therefore been shown to be able to predict the values of anger experienced during nightmares. These results, the researchers conclude, suggest, therefore, that the Faa can represent a universal indicator of the regulation of emotions.