How to manipulate dreams

About four percent of adults have chronic nightmares. A common treatment is imagery repetition therapy (IRT). Subjects constantly imagine a positive ending to their nightmares while they are awake, until this happy ending occurs while they are asleep as well. The method works fairly reliably, but only for about two-thirds of affected individuals.

Researchers Sophie Schwartz and Lampras Perogamvras from the University of Geneva have now done just that introduced a way to enhance ICT in such a way that nightmares almost disappear entirely. The method is called “Target Memory Activation” and consists of conditioning people to a positive mood.

Their test group consisted of 36 young adults between the ages of 20 and 35 who regularly suffered from nightmares. They were randomly divided into control and experimental groups. As with classic ICT, both groups should live out a positive scenario of their nightmares every day. During this time, the experimental group played a specific piano chord every ten seconds for five minutes. The control group did not receive any piano sounds.

The subjects then wore headbands with brainwave sensors while they slept. If the sensors reported a REM phase in which dreams are particularly likely, piano chords were played for both groups. The experiment lasted two weeks, during which the subjects kept a dream diary.

The result: in the control group, the frequency of nightmares per week decreased from 3 to 1 on average, in the experimental group to 0.2. Three months after the end of the study, the rate increased only slightly to 0.3 (control group: 1.5). In addition, dreams became more emotionally positive in general.

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For practical application, this therapy still needs to be confirmed by larger studies. Still, the results are already very encouraging, said Gina Poe, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Science news. She herself did not participate in the experiment. She suggests that future research could also investigate whether the procedure also helps with PTSD.


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