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Can You Feel Pain While Sleeping

by Lyndon Langley
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Can You Feel Pain While Sleeping

Can You Feel Pain While Sleeping

If you’re a regular insomniac, then you know that sleeping can be hard. It’s not just tossing and turning — sometimes your mind actually gets into things while you snooze. Case in point: Your mother calls to tell you that your father has died. Or maybe your dog runs away from home.
While these scenarios might seem far-fetched to some people, they are real occurrences for others. According to recent research published in the journal Science, one out every five Americans experiences vivid nightmares at least once a week. And many more have nightmarish dreams, but aren’t bothered by them afterward because their minds were elsewhere when those dreams popped up. In fact, most people don’t even realize what happened until someone tells them about it later on.
In addition to being fleeting, nightmares tend to occur more often in older adults than younger ones. A study conducted at Stanford University found that nearly two thirds of elderly participants reported having nightmares, compared to only half of young adults. The researchers believe this could be because as we age our brains become better at filtering out unwanted thoughts like nightmares. Another possible reason why nightmares happen less frequently as we get older is that older folks tend to be more comfortable discussing troubling matters or emotions with other people, such as family members, friends and psychologists.
Not all bad dreams are nightmares, however. If you’ve ever had a lucid dream (a dream where you are aware that you are dreaming), then you know that dreams can take on any form. Lucid dreams occur when a person wakes up in his or her own bed and remembers dreaming. But they also can include waking hallucinations, which are when a person sees something that isn’t really there. This type of hallucination happens when a part of the brain called the reticular formation malfunctions.
Fortunately for us, dreams can provide valuable information about how our bodies function, especially when we consider the amount of data that passes through our heads each day. One particular area of interest relates to sleep and its ability to regulate bodily functions. For instance, if you remember having an unpleasant experience before falling asleep, it could trigger a response within your body that affects your health. On the other hand, if you wake up suddenly during the middle of a nightmare, you can catch yourself feeling scared and possibly startle awake. These types of responses are known as the “fight or flight” response.
Studies show that people who suffer from chronic pain are likely to report frequent nightmares, though they usually aren’t troubled by them after awakening. Because nightmares tend to be short-lived, it makes sense that the brain would want to forget them quickly. However, new research suggests otherwise. In April 2011, researchers at Northwestern University released findings from a study involving 40 students who took questionnaires about their sleeping habits, including whether they experienced nightmares.
According to the study’s results, although pain is rare in dreams, it is nevertheless compatible with the representational code of dreaming. In layman’s terms, it means that whenever we think or talk about experiencing pain, we automatically relate to a dream scenario. The finding was based on the theory that the same parts of the brain involved in processing physical sensations are used when we process mental imagery.
Further, the association of pain with dream content may implicate brainstem and limbic centers in the regulation of painful stimuli during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. That’s important since scientists believe that dreaming occurs during REM sleep. The brain uses this stage of sleep to consolidate memories and learn new skills, among other tasks. This is the deepest level of sleep, so it stands to reason that the brain should use it to deal with physical issues that arise.
It’s worth noting, however, that this study included no actual subjects. Instead, the researchers relied upon self-reporting to come to their conclusions. Nevertheless, the study authors say that the results suggest we need to rethink the way we look at nightmares. They also stress that further research needs to be done to confirm this finding, and that future studies should focus on the role of emotion in sleep disorders.
To read more about sleep and related topics, visit the links on the next page.
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A lot of factors affect the frequency of nightmares. People with anxiety disorders are particularly vulnerable because the fight-or-flight response can make them feel like they’re in danger, even when they’re safe at home. Also, children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs are susceptible to nightmares because they may see images of violence and suffering that are difficult for them to process.

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