Nightmares are the term for those frightening memories that resurface in dreams. Sometimes they can become regular occurrences, visiting people multiple times a week for months. In therapy, dreamers can be trained to rehearse positive versions of their most common nightmares, but researchers in Switzerland go a step further in a study of such patients, published in the journal Current Biology. They found that playing a sound—one associated with a positive daytime experience—through a wireless headband while you sleep can also reduce the frequency of nightmares.
“There is a connection between the emotions experienced in dreams and our emotional well-being,” says lead author Lampros Perogamvros, psychiatrist at the Geneva University Hospitals and University of Geneva Sleep Laboratory. “Based on this observation, we had the idea that we could help people by manipulating emotions in their dreams. In this study, we show that we can reduce the number of emotionally very powerful and very negative dreams in patients who experience nightmares.” Epidemiological studies have found that up to 4 percent of adults have chronic nightmares at some point, a condition that is often associated associated with nocturnal awakenings and poorer sleep quality. Patients are often prescribed imagination rehearsal therapy, which asks them to change the negative storyline toward a more positive ending and rehearse the rewritten dream scenario throughout the day. Although this is effective, some cases are unresponsive.
To test whether exposure to sound during sleep can increase success, Perogamvros and his colleagues studied 36 patients, all of whom were receiving an imagination trial therapy. Half of the group received no additional treatment, while the other half had to make an association between a positive version of their nightmare and a noise during an imagery exercise they had to practice daily, and wear a headband that allowed them to emit sound during the REM Sleep for 2 weeks. This is the sleep stage when nightmares most often occur. “We were pleasantly surprised at how well the participants respected and tolerated the study procedures, such as the daily imagery trial therapy and wearing the sleep headband during the night,” says Perogamvros. “We observed a rapid decrease in nightmares, along with dreams becoming more emotionally positive. For us, researchers and clinicians, these results hold great promise both for studying emotional processing during sleep and for developing new therapies.”
Both groups experienced a decrease in nightmares per week, but half who received the combination therapy had fewer nightmares after the intervention and 3 months later. They also experienced more joy in their dreams. The results suggest that such a combined therapy should be tried on a larger scale and in different population groups to determine the extent and generalizability of its effectiveness. (ANI)
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