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Fears can be reduced during sleep, study shows


New research has found that stomach sleepers are more likely to have dreams about sex and bondage.


Peter Macdiarmid

Overcoming fears are considered a difficult and lengthy process that takes willpower and defiance.

Researchers now say that arduous task can be done in your sleep.

A new study from Northwestern University has found a way to reduce fear memories in people while they sleep using odors.

The odors are able to transform fears into benign memories, say the researchers.

"It's a novel finding," said study author Katherina Hauner.

"We showed a small but significant decrease in fear. The bigger picture is that, perhaps, the treatment of phobias can be enhanced during sleep."

The study used 15 participants who were received mild electric shocks while looking at pictures of two different faces. They were also subjected to certain smells while seeing each face and being shocked.

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This made the face and the smell associated with fear, which was measured by sweat production and fMRI.

During sleep the odors were presented again without shocks. When the subjects woke and were presented with the faces, their fears had been reduced - until they were electrocuted again of course.

The findings may be a novel method in enhancing daytime treatment of fears. It is also novel as it was only recently that scientists discovered that emotions could be manipulated while the person is asleep.

The research will be published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.