Your Brain on Sleep

by Zoe Pollock

The Oxford University Press blog continues to delve into sleep and the unconscious with Dr. Rosalind Cartwright who says:

The unconscious only comes up into the surface during our waking hours if we daydream and let our mind wander freely. In sleep the unconscious selects new experiences to save in memory, particularly new experiences that have an emotional charge. If you worked hard to learn something new you will remember it better after a period of sleep than if you stay awake before you need to remember that new learning.

Cartwright also explains how to coax your brain into getting rid of a recurring nightmare:

1) Identify why the nightmare was so strong that it woke them,
2) Name the opposite feeling,
3) Create an opposite image to represent that good emotion,
4) Practice that new image several times a day until it is easy to experience it at will. This image rehearsal is very successful with nightmares once the person feels “in charge”.

Her advice almost perfectly matches the advice my mother gave me growing up (to imagine scary leprechauns from under the bed tickling me, rather than attacking me). Though either image is still fairly horrifying, it did get rid of the nightmare.