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Dreams & Moods
Dreams can improve mood
Reuters News
Dreams can help people who are coping with stressful situations to work out their problems and improve their mood, according to two studies from the Sleep Disorder Service and Research Center in Chicago, Illinois.

The studies found that people whose dreams became more positive as the night progressed were more likely to work through their problems. The first study looked at people coping with a personal crisis, while the second study examined individuals coping with normal levels of daily stress.

"(Dreams) serve as an internal therapist working out the overwhelming feelings that make us less functional in waking," explained lead author Dr. Rosalind Cartwright, in an interview with Reuters Health.

In the first study, 39 depressed and 22 non-depressed subjects who were going through a separation or divorce spent two 3-night periods at a sleep laboratory. The first period was close to the time of their marital crisis, and the second period was one year later.

Researchers monitored subjects during the first rapid eye movement (REM) state, asked about the strength of emotions experienced in the dream, and recorded the number of negative dreams a subject recalled when they were awakened during REM.

Results showed that 56% of patients who were depressed initially were no longer depressed after a year. These patients had not received medication or psychotherapy.

The researchers linked their change in mood to their dream sequence. Subjects who reported negative dreams at the beginning of the night but not at the end were more likely to feel happy a year later, the team reports.

"In this study, we found that negative dreams in the first part of the night may reflect an internal sleep mood regulation process taking place. If these occur later in the night, they indicate a failure in the completion of this process," said Cartwright, director of the Rush Sleep Disorder Service at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

The second study included 60 medical students with no history of depression. Researchers assessed their moods before and after 2 nights of laboratory sleep, and woke the students on the second night to record their dreams.

Students who were depressed before falling asleep reported more negative dreams earlier in the night, and more positive dreams as the night progressed. There was no change in dream pattern for students who were not depressed before bedtime.

"The student study showed that normal people who are not depressed but just have some blue mood, worry, or upset feelings before sleep have the same pattern of dream emotion as the depressed divorce subjects who got over their depression," Cartwright explained.

Sleep and dreams occur in cycles. Dreams occur during REM sleep phases, which take place during the deepest sleep, usually begins 60 to 90 minutes after the onset of sleep and about every 90 minutes throughout the night.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

SOURCE: Psychiatry Research 1998;81:1-8.

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