Dreams May Hold Key to Beating Depression
Cartwright and colleagues woke up each volunteer five minutes into the REM/dream period, to ask about their dream. She also saw the volunteers in her office at the beginning, middle, and end of the study period to see how they were doing. None of the volunteers received any psychotherapy or drugs during the study.
During the five months, nine of the 12 depressed people improved significantly enough that they no longer tested as depressed.
The role of the ex-spouse in the dreams signified much about this healing process, she says.
The ex-spouse was present in everyone's dreams at first, along with a lot of negative feelings, anger, unhappiness, missing them, she says.
But toward the end of the study, it was clear that those getting over the depression had put the ex-spouse at a distance.
"The ex-spouse 'character' was there," says Cartwright, "but in a way that showed they were essentially unhooked from the relationship. It was no a longer reference point for how they felt about themselves or how they felt about a new person in their lives. It was irrelevant."
"It was more like, 'Thank goodness I don't have to pay attention to what he says anymore. I'm very independent, I don't have to ask his permission, don't have to worry about what he's doing. If I'm dating, I don't have to worry what he thinks about it,'" she says. "It's not that they had forgotten the person, but were enjoying reclaiming who they were, enjoying a sense of liberty."
Those who were depressed were still having negative, anxious dreams about the ex-spouse, she says.
The sheer action of waking people up during anxious dreams helped get them past the depression, Cartwright tells WebMD.
"It stops an abnormal process from continuing," she says. "Depressed people don't solve problems during their dreams, like other people do, they pile up their troubles, and the last dream of the night is the worst. They wake up in a worse mood if you let them sleep through those dreams. But if you interrupt them, they normalize and feel better in the morning."