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Nightmares: An Enhancement to Psychotherapy by Repetition of Mental Imagery


Epidemiological studies have shown that up to 4% of adults have chronic nightmares at some point.

One psychotherapy for the treatment of nightmares is mental imagery rehearsal therapy in which dreamers are encouraged to repeat positive versions of their most frequent nightmares during the day.

Swiss researchers, whose work is published in October 2022 in the journal Current Biologyhave designed a variation of this therapy that improves its effectiveness.

They found that associating a sound with positive versions of nightmares made during the day and playing that sound during sleep using a wireless headband could reduce the frequency of nightmares.

We came up with the idea that we could help people by manipulating emotions in their dreams“, explains Lampros Perogamvros, psychiatrist at the Sleep Laboratory of the University Hospitals of Geneva and the University of Geneva.

Although imagery rehearsal therapy is effective, some patients do not respond to it.

Perogamvros and his colleagues conducted this study with 36 people suffering from nightmares and receiving imagery rehearsal therapy.

Half of the group received no further treatment, while the other had to create an association between a positive version of their nightmare and a sound during an imagination exercise, which they had to practice daily, and wear a blindfold that could send the sound to them during REM sleep for two weeks. This is the stage of sleep where nightmares mainly occur.

Both groups experienced a decrease in the number of nightmares per week, but the half who received the combination therapy had fewer nightmares after the intervention, as well as 3 months later. These participants also felt more joy in their dreams.

We observed a rapid decrease in nightmares, as well as dreams becoming more emotionally positive“, reports the researcher. These results are very promising for the development of new therapies, believes the researcher.

This combination therapy should be tested on a larger scale and with different types of populations to determine the extent and generalization of its effectiveness, the researchers’ statement concludes.

For more information, see the links below.

Psychomedia with sources: CELL PRESS, University of Geneva, Current Biology.
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