Sign up for CNN’s Sleep, But Better newsletter series. Our seven-part guide has helpful tips for achieving better sleep.
Heart pounding, I sat bolt upright in bed, flushed, sweaty, and completely panicked. My brain snatched me from a dream—a dream so dangerous that I woke up.
I’ve only had one or two night terrors, but for people who suffer from trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety, the nightmares come night after night, ruining their sleep and ultimately their health.
Visions from dreams penetrate the light of the next day like dark shadows, disrupting a person’s ability to focus and think. Mood drops, anxiety increases. Days can be filled with an intense fear of falling asleep and triggering another nightmare.
Such symptoms can lead to a diagnosis of nightmare disorder, a sleep condition that affects 4% of adults. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Treatment includes: Stress reduction, counseling, gradual desensitization and medications, but the gold standard is imagery rehearsal therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral training that teaches people to reframe their dreams with positive results. However, experts say not everyone with a nightmare disorder responds to treatment.
Now a new study has added a twist – playing a sound during the REM (rapid eye movement) or dream stage of sleep is associated with a more positive effect on a person’s memory. The effect is fourfold Reducing nightmares on basic treatment alone.
“As far as I know, this is the first clinical and therapeutic study to use targeted memory activation to speed up and improve treatment,” said Dr. Geneva
“This is a promising development. Adding sound at the right time during REM sleep appears to increase the effect of imagery rehearsal therapy … It is a standard and one of the most effective non-pharmacological treatments at this time,” said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler. The most recent American Academy of Sleep Medical guidelines On dreams.
“The result needs to be replicated,” said Morgenthaler, who was not involved in the study. “But I was quite excited about this new possibility.”
There are four basic steps in Image Rehearsal Therapy that can be taught in one day. Experts say. First, people are asked to write down every detail of their dreams. Next, each person rewrites the nightmare with a positive twist, ensuring it ends with a pleasant or empowering solution or resolution.
Now the training begins. A reworked dream should be rehearsed Five to 20 minutes each day binds it into the brain’s memory circuits. Once it’s in place, it’s time to put it into action by rehearsing the new dream before bed.
In the new study, published Thursday In Current Biology Journal, the researchers added a twist to the treatment. Eighteen people with a dream disorder heard a neutral sound — a piano chord — and they rediscovered their dreams in more positive ways. A control group of 18 people with a dream disorder heard no additional sound while reworking their dreams.
All 36 were given a helmet called an actimeter to wear at night for two weeks. As well as tracking sleep stages, the device also delivered sound in a way that didn’t wake the sleeper – via bone conduction.
“One of the remarkable things about this study’s intervention is the use of a relatively new technology that can time the stimulation to true REM sleep very precisely,” said Morgenthaler, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine.
“Most wearable devices do not accurately measure actual REM sleep,” he added. “Certainly, further study may find that time is not that important—but that remains to be determined.”
Both groups were presented with a sound every 10 seconds during the two-week sleep dream state. In this case, “imagery rehearsal therapy worked for all participants, including the control group,” Perokamvros said.
“But in the experimental group, “Where sound was positively related, the decrease was significantly larger – they had almost four times fewer nightmares,” he added.
Imagery rehearsal therapy reduced overall distress, mood and sleep quality in both groups, but nightmare reduction happened faster in the experimental group and lasted at three-month follow-up, Perokamvros said. Additionally, members of the group that heard the sound reported more pleasant dream experiences during their dreams than those in the control group.
More research is needed to verify these results and expand the concept, but Perokamvros is hopeful that the technique could lead to improvements in the roughly 30% of patients who don’t respond to imagery rehearsal therapy, also known as IRT.
“Concepts based on the hypothesis that target memory reactivation may increase the effects of IRT, and this elegant test of that hypothesis reinforces that theory,” Morgenthaler said.