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Researchers Find A New Treatment For Debilitating Nightmares That Promises Sweet Dreams

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The normal treatment for nocturnal terror disorder may be made more effective with the use of memory enhancement techniques. Insomnia-free sleep is a fantasy for many who suffer from chronic nightmares. Neuroscientists have now shown new treatment for debilitating nightmares in a pilot study that they can use a method that, for some people, seems to end disturbing dreams.

Researchers reported online in Current Biology on October 27 that adding a memory-boosting method to the usual treatment for nightmare disorder cut the number of nightmares people had each week from three to almost none. Those who suffer from a condition known as "nightmare disorder" fear what lurks in their dreams rather than what lurks under their beds.

Frequent nightmares may disrupt sleep and affect how you feel throughout the day. Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) is the standard method for treating nightmare conditions. In this approach, patients mentally rehearse an alternate version of their dreams while awake. It helps most individuals by reducing their nightmares, but it doesn't work for over a third of them.

What Is Nightmare Disorder?

A nightmare is a very scary dream that wakes you up because of its association with unpleasant emotions like worry or panic. Though more prevalent among kids, nightmares may strike anybody at any time. It's normal to have the occasional bad dream.

COPYRIGHT_WI: Published on https://washingtonindependent.com/ebv/new-treatment-for-debilitating-nightmares/ by Paula M. Graham on 2022-10-31T02:34:15.391Z

Most individuals sometimes have nightmares, which are vivid, terrible dreams that may startle them awake and haunt them long after they have awakened. Other people, on the other hand, have nightmares often enough that they affect their ability to sleep and their ability to go about their daily lives.

Children's nightmares often begin between the ages of three and six, peak around age ten, and then gradually go away. A greater proportion of teenage and young adult females, compared to males, report experiencing nightmares. Sometimes they don't appear until later in life, and in other cases, they persist forever.

The fact that they could actually make a big difference in the frequency of those nightmares is huge.

- Gina Poe, a neuroscientist at UCLA

Nightmares are rather common, but nightmare disorder is unusual. Nightmare disorder is characterized by recurring nightmares that cause a lot of emotional pain, sleep problems, trouble getting through the day, or avoiding bedtime. The second part of the night is when nightmares often strike.

Nightmares might happen occasionally or on a more regular basis, sometimes even many times every night. Even though attacks rarely last longer than a few minutes, they can wake you up and make it hard to fall back asleep.

Learn how to Stop PTSD Nightmares with Dr Justin Havens

New Technique For Nightmares

University of Geneva neuroscientist Sophie Schwartz and her colleagues used a learning strategy called targeted memory reactivation (TMR) to increase the efficacy of IRT. To utilize this method, one listens intently to a sound while studying and then hears the same cue again when sleeping since sleep is a key part of how memories are made, being reminded of the cue while sleeping may help to bring back and strengthen the linked memory.

In the latest study, researchers trained 36 individuals with nightmare disorder in IRT, with half of the participants assigned to do silent rehearsals of their reworked nightmares. While the other half practiced, a five-minute loop of a brief piano chord (the TMR cue) was played every ten seconds.

Participants used IRT daily for two weeks while also keeping a dream journal. They wore a sensor-laden headband at night, it captured the electrical activity in their brains and monitored their sleep cycles.

During rapid eye movement (REM), the dreaming period of sleep, the headband sounded off every 10 seconds with the piano chord. All participants listened to the music through the headband, but only half of them had learned to identify it with the new set during the IRT exercise.

Those who practiced TMR reported a significant reduction in nightmares (from an average of three per week to two and a half) and even reported having more pleasant dreams. Even while the IRT-only group saw improvement, they still had around one nightmare per week on average.

After three months, the TMR-IRT combination was still more effective than IRT alone, with the average number of nightmares in this group increasing from 0.2 to 0.3 per week, while in the IRT-only group, this number increased to 1.5.

Even if further studies show that TMR-IRT is equally effective, it will be some time before it is widely available. Sleep tracking devices that can be bought in stores, like watches and rings, won't be able to tell the difference between sleep phases until they are improved.

However, Poe notes that these limitations do not detract from the overall positive tone of the study's findings. She suggests that TMR and IRT might be studied together in the future to see if it helps people with PTSD, a condition that causes people to have nightmares about bad things that happened over and over again.

I’m not sure we’ll succeed with these particular patients. But if we do, this would be a really important addition to the methods we have for treating PTSD.

- Gina Poe

Final Thought

The potential generalizability of this therapeutic strategy has to be investigated in larger research. Only a limited number of healthy young people (aged 20–35) with nightmare disorders and no other mental disorders participated in this research. Even though the authors say that previous research has shown that IRT works, the study did not compare it to either no therapy or TMR.

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About The Authors

Paula M. Graham

Paula M. Graham - Paula is a writer and editor who works as a freelancer. She covers subjects such as banking, insurance, and digital marketing in his writing. Paula is a bookworm who also enjoys podcasts and freshly made coffee.

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