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Imagine the many ways we use sound to enhance our lives — relaxation, learning, meditation, and motivation. According to Swiss research, we can add another, relief from nightmares.

People with "nightmare disorder" experience disturbing dreams frequently. Many are veterans reliving the horrors of the battlefield. For them, returning to more normal sleep often involves learning how to change their nightmares into positive dreams. In nightmare disorder, negative dreams are so frequent they cause significant distress and impair social, work, and other aspects of daily life. The condition can last for decades if untreated.

Why it matters

Image rehearsal therapy helps accomplish this, but for almost one-third of people with nightmare disorder, this method doesn’t work. New research, however, shows that listening to positive sounds while sleeping reduces the frequency of nightmares.

“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 Timothy Morgenthaler, MD, in an interview with CNN.


The University of Geneva study enrolled 36 participants with nightmare disorder; all received imagery rehearsal therapy. But half of the participants also heard a positive sound while they practiced reimagining their new positive dreams. This sound was also played during their REM-sleep cycles.

The takeaway

Study participants who heard the sound reported significantly fewer nightmares, a result that was sustained at the three-month follow-up.

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