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Scientists, recognizing that bad dreams can have a debilitating effect on people’s general well-being, recently developed a new technique using piano chords to significantly reduce recurring nightmares almost completely, Science News reported.
For years, the standard treatment for nightmare disorders has been imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT): Patients reimagine their bad dreams to be more positive and mentally rehearse their new storyline while awake. The technique has helped many people but fails for nearly a third of patients.
Now, a research team boosted the power of IRT by employing another technique known as targeted memory reactivation (TMR). In this method, a person focuses on learning something while a sound plays, and that same cue plays again during sleep.
In their experiments, researchers gave 36 participants training in IRT and then split them into two groups: One practiced IRT by themselves, but the other rehearsed while a short piano chord – the TMR cue – played every 10 seconds for five minutes.
The team also monitored the patients’ brain activity and sleep stages.
Their findings showed that the group using the IRT-TMR combo considerably reduced nightmares, lowering the weekly average from three to 0.2 nightmares – and even resulting in happier dreams. The IRT-only group also experienced reductions but still averaged one weekly nightmare.
The new method also had more staying power after three months with that group’s average rising slightly to more than 0.2 to 0.3 nightmares per week.
The authors said more research is needed – including a bigger sample group – to replicate the results.
They also hope that the IRT-TMR combination can be used to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, where nightmares rehash traumatic events.