sleepSo, according to scientists, humans spend about one-third of their lives merely sleeping.

Sure doesn’t feel like it with finals coming up.

We students are all dragging ourselves to those study sessions and groups, occupying libraries, falling asleep over our dining commons food – anything to remove ourselves far far far away from our soft beds with our favorite comforter and squishy pillows and and our fantasies kissing Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Adriana Lima (take your pick) and … and …

Ah, it’s so easy to drone on about our relationships with sleep (and the ones we imagine about while doing so). And for very good reason.

UC Berkeley researches have discovered that sleep, on top of helping our bodies physically recuperate, also shuts down our stress chemistry and lets the brain process emotional experiences, thus removing the “sting” out of difficult memories. So in other words, sleep and its partner, dreaming, are our natural therapists. This sort of healing occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which takes up 20 percent of the typical healthy human’s nightly sleep.

During REM sleep, “memories are being reactivated, put in perspective and connected and integrated, but in a state where stress neurochemicals are beneficially suppressed,” according to Els van der Helm, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study. In other words, your brain is shuffling through the plethora of memories and things of the day (and past) and comprehending them while unhindered by stress and emotions.

Scientists have not yet reached a unanimous agreement on what sleep’s function is, but have made connections to learning, mood regulation and memory. With this new bit of research, REM sleep’s importance is even more emphasized.

This research actually explains why post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients struggle to recover from their own experiences and are afflicted by recurring nightmares. Without healthy dreams and proper sleep, people with PTSD haven’t had the chance to slowly filter out the emotions attached to such memories. This sort of therapy is not working for them and so the victims relive their terrifying memories through flashbacks and such.

A physician at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs informed this study’s researchers that a blood pressure drug was found to somehow help PTSD patients from having recurring nightmares. Upon further examination, the drug apparently has a side effect that supresses norepinephrine in the brain, meaning the people taking the medication ended up having more stress-free brains during REM sleep, thanks to fewer nightmares.

So what have we learned?

That drugs are gifts from the gods.

Just kidding. What the Clog hopes you have learned is that you should value your sleep. Yes, we understand that you’re struggling under a massive load of finals, papers and other horrid forms of punishments that determine your future GPAs. However, don’t push yourself too much. If you’re on your fourth all-nighter, don’t go asking people why you feel like crap. It’s because you need some damn sleep.

So be kind to your body just for at least one night this week. Step out of the shower that you were hoping would drown you while you were wallowing in self-loathing, jump into some amazing PJs and deliberately (without second thoughts!) snuggle into your bed. It’s been missing you.

Image source: kudumomo under Creative Commons
Dream sleep takes sting out of painful memories [UC Berkeley News Center]

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