Sometime ago I came across an article of a research study conducted on rats. The researchers took a plastic cup and cut a hole in the bottom of the cup. They then placed the cup upside down in a bowl of water. They then placed their chosen rats on top of the now upside down cups to sleep on. When the poor rat got into rapid eye movement sleep, (REM) the relaxed state of the rat would cause it’s stomach to pull through the hole in the cup which would lead to the rat falling through and into the bowl of water. It would then climb back unto the top of the upside down cup and repeat the process again. This effectively denied the rats REM sleep, and subsequently the rats were prevented from dreaming.
Regardless, the goal of this study was to learn about possible effects from not dreaming. Physiologically the rats prevented from dreaming while still receiving a good night’s sleep where in good shape. Except that when a fake snake was placed in the area to test the rats’ freeze responses/ defense mechanisms, rats that were denied REM sleep did not emit a freeze response, instead they looked oblivious. The researchers then came to the belief that dreaming promotes learning. Due to the fact the behavior of the rats, in the presence of a “predator” that were denied REM sleep was detrimental to their survival. From my perspective, this would shed a lot of light as to why math teachers from my childhood would always stress that we take naps whenever we got stuck on an equation. It worked. There are also other REM sleep studies done on laboratory animals in which increased REM was positively correlated with increased learning most notably, tests on mice having to learn a route through a maze to find food.
Taking a page from the research study I just described, I would suggest that poor sleep leads to poor anger management and subsequently poor mental health. Poor sleep leads to poor anger management simply because the less sleep you receive the less likely you are to dream, the less you dream the less likely you are to become creative in dealing with stressful situations. Human beings are also animals, when we are not being creative in addressing our problems, we become susceptible towards relying solely on our animal instincts, specifically our instinctual fight or flight response system Use of sleeping pills does a good job in knocking you out but for some reason people don’t dream when they are taking them. I am so terrified of sleeping pills that even when I am struggling with a cold, I always take dayquil or the generic equivalent before going to bed.
So what’s a person who struggles with poor sleep to do?
Typically people who struggle with poor sleep report experiencing anxious thoughts and restlessness. From my professional opinion this means that on an intimate level they are not experiencing
any level of peace. Their innate sense of insecurity is heightened and they require several hours of keeping watch to lapse before they can dare sleep.
The best remedy for anxiety causing poor sleep is to take a mindfulness approach. Through therapy, the person can learn to identify suppressed worries that has led to his or her experience with anxiety and subsequently poor sleeping. Once these issues have been brought to the surface, a solution focused therapeutic approach is taken to address these issues. Ultimately the goal for the client is to learn to accept and become truly at peace with circumstances out of his or her control.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep.
If you found yourself in agreement or disagreement with this post, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section. I do read all comments.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions, a professional counseling and life coaching practice based in Tucson AZ.