Researchers modified the therapy in the most recent study, which was released Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
While they reimagined their dreams in more uplifting ways, 18 participants with nightmare disorder listened to a neutral sound—a piano chord. A control group of 18 individuals who also suffered from nightmare disorder rewrote their dreams without any added sound. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, these symptoms can lead to a diagnosis of nightmare disorder, a sleep disorder that affects roughly 4% of adults. The gold standard in treatment is imagery rehearsal therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral training that encourages patients to reimagine their nightmares with happy endings. Other options for treatment include stress reduction, counseling, gradual desensitization, and drugs. However, according to doctors, not every person with nightmare disorder responds to the medication. A new study has introduced a twist: during REM (rapid eye movement), or the dream stage of sleep, playing a sound that person’s memory has connected with a more favorable outcome. Over the course of basic therapy alone, the number of nightmares was reduced by four times.