HEALTH

Taking the terror out of nightmares using sound during REM sleep

Oct 28, 2022, 7:00 AM
nightmares research...
Nightmare disorder is a sleep condition that affects about 4% of adults, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says (Elnur/Adobe Stock)
(Elnur/Adobe Stock)
Originally Published: 27 OCT 22 18:09 ET

(CNN) — Heart pounding, I sit bolt upright in bed, flushed, sweaty and utterly panicked. My brain has snatched me from one of my nightmares — a dream so alarming I wake up.

I’ve only had one or two such night terrors, but for people suffering from trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety, frightening dreams may come night after night, ruining their sleep and ultimately their health.

Sleepless in Salt Lake City, Utah ranks #1 for people Googling “sleep issues”

Visions from nightmares can also creep like dark shadows into the light of the next day, disrupting a person’s ability to focus and think. Mood plummets, and anxiety rises. Days may be filled with an intense fear of falling asleep and trigger yet another terrifying dream.

Such symptoms can lead to a diagnosis of nightmare disorder, a sleep condition that affects about 4% of adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Treatment can include 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 reimagine their nightmares with positive endings. Still, not everyone with nightmare disorder responds to the treatment, experts say.

`Infecting our dreams’: Pandemic sabotages sleep worldwide

Now a new study has added a twist — playing a sound the person’s memory has associated with a more positive outcome during REM (rapid eye movement) or the dream stage of sleep. The result was a fourfold reduction in nightmares over the basic therapy alone.

“As far as I know, this is the first clinical and therapeutic study that uses target memory activation to accelerate and enhance therapy,” said lead author Dr. Lampros Perogamvros, a psychiatrist at the Sleep Laboratory of the Geneva University Hospitals and the University of Geneva.

Study: Surviving on lack of sleep in midlife linked to dementia

“This is a promising development. It does appear that adding a well-timed sound during REM sleep augments the effect of image rehearsal therapy … which is a standard and perhaps one of the most effective non-pharmacologic therapies at this time,” said Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, lead author of the most recent American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines on nightmares.

“The result should be replicated,” said Morgenthaler, who was not involved in the study. “But I was a bit excited at this new possibility.”

Reinventing the nightmare

Imagery rehearsal therapy has four basic steps that can be taught in one day, experts say. First, people are asked to write down every detail of their nightmare. Next, each person rewrites the nightmare with a positive arch. They must make sure that it ends with a pleasant or empowering solution or resolution.

Now the practice begins. The reworked dream must be rehearsed five to 20 minutes each day until it’s woven into the memory circuits of the brain. Once that is in place, it’s time to put it into action by rehearsing the new dream just before bed.

Do spiders sleep? Study suggests they may snooze like humans

In the new study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, researchers added a twist to the therapy. Eighteen people with nightmare disorder heard a neutral sound — a piano cord — while they reinvented their nightmares in more positive ways. A control group of 18 people who also had nightmare disorder heard no additional sound, while they reworked their dreams.

All 36 people were given a headband called an actimeter to wear at night for two weeks. In addition to monitoring the stages of sleep, the device delivered sound in a way that would not wake the sleeper — via bone conduction.

“One of the significant things about this study’s intervention is the use of relatively new technology that can more accurately time the stimulus to true REM sleep,” said Morgenthaler, a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine.

“Most wearable devices do not accurately measure actual REM sleep,” he added. “Of course, further study might find that the timing is not that critical — but that remains to be determined.”

The sound was delivered to both groups every 10 seconds during the dream stage of sleep over a two-week period. In this case, “imagery rehearsal therapy worked for all of the participants, including the control group,” Perogamvros said.

“But in the experimental group, where the sound was positively associated, the decrease was significantly bigger — they had nearly four times fewer nightmares,” he added.

Imagery rehearsal therapy also lessened overall distress, measures of mood and sleep quality in both groups. But nightmare reduction happened faster in the experimental group. And it persisted at a three-month follow-up, Perogamvros said. In addition, members of the group who heard the sound reported more joyful dream experiences during their dreams than those in the control group.

The research needs additional verification. And researchers must expand upon the concept. But Perogamvros said he hoped the technique might lead to breakthroughs for the nearly 30% of patients who are unresponsive to imagery rehearsal therapy, also called IRT.

“The ideas underpinning the hypothesis that targeted memory reactivation might boost the effects of IRT have merit,” Morgenthaler said, “and this elegant test of that hypothesis strengthens that theory.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

Health

carbon monoxide poisoning...
Ali Litzinger

Carbon monoxide poisoning on the rise in winter months

SALT LAKE CITY — Winter is approaching and officials want people to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Last year, nearly 200 Utahns were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.  The flame in a gas appliance should generally be blue, with some orange. If the flame is mostly yellow, it’s giving off excess carbon monoxide.  […]
2 months ago
BYU...
Mark Jackson

BYU wellness students return from Blue zone with healthy lifestyle tips

Some BYU students are learning how to live healthy and happier lives from a trip to Ikaria, Greece.
2 months ago
mental health rural...
Devin Oldroyd

Salt Lake Co. Council voting to fund temporary mental health receiving center

Salt Lake County Council will vote Tuesday morning on Funding for a temporary mental health receiving center at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
2 months ago
Driven to Assist Season of Service by Larry H Miller....
Elizabeth Weiler and Waverly Golden

Companies around Utah offer free Thanksgiving meals and more

The Miller Foundation, Crossroads Urban Center, and Ken Garff are all offering Thanksgiving meals and other services for Thanksgiving.
2 months ago
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...
Mark Jackson

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Memphis NAACP pair to help mothers

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Memphis NAACP are partnering to launch "MyBaby4Me" to help new and expecting mothers.
2 months ago
Shortages in daycares across the country and in Utah are keeping thousands of parents home, intead ...
Becky Bruce and Kira Hoffelmeyer

School and daycare facilities haven’t “bounced back” to normalcy

Along with the rest of the nation, a shortage of daycare workers and teachers in Utah means parents are staying home from work.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
Taking the terror out of nightmares using sound during REM sleep