Nightmares can greatly impact your well-being, but new research may have found a way to help people reshape negative storylines into more positive ones as they sleep. The approach builds on existing therapy by introducing certain sounds which can help a person to mold their nightmare into a dream, all while unconscious.
An existing method of stopping nightmares encourages people to rehearse a positive version of the unpleasant dream over and over in their heads. It's called imagery rehearsal therapy, used as a treatment to stop nightmares and manage the sudden waking and poor quality sleep associated with them.
Imagery rehearsal therapy has been found to be quite effective for stopping nightmares in some people – but there remain some cases who don’t respond to the approach. Could stimuli associated with a positive daytime experience help these people to find peace while they sleep?
A new study examined the effect of sound played through a wireless headband worn during sleep on nightmare frequency. Researchers enrolled 36 imagery rehearsal therapy patients and tasked half of them with rewriting their nightmare in a more positive light during a sound imagination exercise.
The daily practice saw them completing imagery rehearsal therapy with added sound stimuli. The 36 participants were then recorded for 2 weeks as they slept, wearing the headbands that could transmit the sound. Nightmares typically occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, so this was the sleep cycle state the researchers were most interested in.
Fortunately for the dreamers, both groups saw an improvement in their sleep, as nightmares per week dropped for all studied. However, the group who had received the combination of imagery and sound treatment saw a drop in nightmare frequency that lasted for three months beyond the study – and even began to experience more joyous dreams in lieu of their nightmares.
“There is a relationship between the types of emotions experienced in dreams and our emotional well-being,” said senior author Lampros Perogamvros, a psychiatrist at the Sleep Laboratory of the Geneva University Hospitals and the University of Geneva, in a statement.
“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 strong and very negative dreams in patients suffering from nightmares.”
The study was published in the journal Current Biology.