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Scientists Discover a Way to Dream Your Way to a Less Fearful Life

REM sleep strengthens the brain against fear.

When you sleep your brain goes through five distinct phases which repeat over the course of the night. The phase that’s the star of the show is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: This is when your brain and body become energized and, importantly, when you dream. REM sleep is known to help store memories, balance your mood, and, according to new research, help individuals be less fearful of the scary things around them.

In a paper released Monday in The Journal of Neuroscience scientists from the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University explain that their study is the first to demonstrate that how well humans are sleeping prior to being exposed to a fear stimuli, affects how strongly they react to that stimuli. Previous research has found that individuals with PTSD often have poor REM sleep: This study suggests that high-quality REM sleep prior to trauma could subsequently help individuals cope with their fear memories.

“Ultimately, our results may suggest that baseline REM sleep could serve as a noninvasive biomarker for resilience, or susceptibility, to trauma,” the researchers write. “Current studies of sleep in individuals with PTSD have shown REM abnormalities such as low levels of REM and REM fragmentation.”

More time in Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep predicted less connectivity between key brain regions that are involved in fear learning.

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The scientists claim this study demonstrates that higher baseline levels of REM sleep predicted “reduced fear-related activity in, and connectivity between, the hippocampus, amygdala, and ventromedial PFC during conditioning.”

To establish this, the scientists recruited Rutgers University students to monitor their sleep at home for a week with a headband that measures brain waves and a bracelet that measures arm movements. They were also asked to keep a sleep log noting the times that they fell asleep and when they woke up. This part of the study is what allowed the scientists to see what sort of quality REM sleep they were receiving: In the second part of the study, the students came to the lap to participate in a neuroimaging experiment where they learned to associate a neutral image (pictures of three differently colored lamps), with an electric shock that was considered “highly annoying but not painful.”

Analysis revealed that the students who spent more time in REM sleep demonstrated weaker modulation of activity in their brain during the fear learning experiment. This result supports previous animal model research that found REM sleep reduces levels of norepinephrine in the brain, a substance that is predominantly released from the ends of sympathetic nerve fibers that prompts the body’s flight-or-flight response. The Rutgers scientists believe that lower levels of norepinephrine helps individuals be less sensitive to fearful stimuli.

While getting more REM sleep to cope with fear may be a simple piece of advice, it’s also an effective one. Sleep contributes to both the development and persistence of fearful memories, which create real-life effects when you’re awake.

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You Can Save Up to 30 Percent on Your Power Bill With Arcadia Power

Connect to clean, low-cost energy and bring down your power bill for free.

Filed Under Energy & Power

Given the chance, most of us would jump at the opportunity to bring down our power bills. But, there’s a prevailing assumption that doing so involves dealing with steep upfront costs before the savings actually come in. Arcadia Power presents a different solution, however, and it’s willing to give new users $20 off their first utility bill for trying out the platform.

The 'Stoned Ape' Theory Might Explain Our Extraordinary Evolution

A scientist resurfaces a psychedelic retelling of human evolution.

Imagine Homo erectus, a now-extinct species of hominids that stood upright and became the first of our ancestors to move beyond a single continent. Around two million years ago, these hominids, some of whom eventually evolved into Homo sapiens, began to expand their range beyond Africa, moving into Asia and Europe. Along the way, they tracked animals, encountered dung, and discovered new plants.

Ancient Humans' Tiny Tool Use Is a Big Reason We Are Evolutionarily Unique 

Humans' love of miniaturization allowed for our global spread.

Tools have long been a centerpiece of humans’ ongoing quest to understand our own evolution. Man created tools, and so man has been judged as uniquely, cognitively complex. The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that it’s increasingly obvious that toolmaking and tool use do not make humans as unique as we’d like to think: Many animals, from orangutans to crows, make tools, too.

Fearing Cancer From 5G, Portland City Council May Ask FCC to Investigate

"This substantial increase in cell towers deployed in communities means greater contact with them."

Fearing unknown health risks, members of the City Council in Portland, Oregon, will vote Wednesday to oppose the rollout of 5G wireless networks.

In a proposed resolution, Mayor Ted Wheeler, along with Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz, write that there’s evidence suggesting wireless networks can cause health problems — including cancer

73 Years Later, the "A-Bomb" Ginkgo Trees Still Grow in Hiroshima

"There’s a huge paradox at the heart of this ginkgo story."

On August 6, 1945, an Allied plane dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, creating a fireball 1,200 feet in diameter. Disaster rained down upon the city, killing an estimated 150,000 people and leveling both the biological and man-made landscape. Little was left standing, but somehow the ginkgo trees were able to weather one of the most destructive moments in human history.