The upside of nightmares: How bad dreams are also good for you

Morgan Schweitzer By Michelle Carr The earliest dream Chris could remember was one that haunted his mind for months during preschool. In it, he watched family members and pets melting during a house fire. They turned into “several humongous blobs that resembled bubbling pizza topping”, each containing fragments of their body parts. More than 25 years later, the images still haunt him. For Jess, nightmares marked a difficult time in her late teens when she was struggling with anxiety. “I would sometimes miss weeks of school because of my nightmares,” she now recalls, several years later. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function.” Jess remembers nights spent half awake, falling in and out of a recurring nightmare where she was unable to scream or move, engulfed by paralysing fear. Even after waking, she couldn’t escape the feeling of helplessness. Chris and Jess both responded to a “Get Paid to Nap!” advert inviting people who had at least two nightmares a week to take part in a research study. Early one morning in late 2014, they arrived at my workplace – the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine in Montreal, Canada. They and other volunteers ran through questionnaires, tests of creativity and reported their waking daydreams before we pasted electrodes to their scalps and bodies and finally asked them to take a nap. What we and other labs have found is casting nightmares in a new light. Horrific as having them frequently can be, it also seems to endow more regular positive dreams,
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