Resolve nightmares using Image Rehearsal Therapy

Recurring nightmares disrupt the sleep of a surprisingly large number of people, about 4% of adults on a regular basis, and higher percentages for children and adolescents.

We previously discussed ways to understand the potentially beneficial roles nightmares play, both as a form of dreaming, and as a way to cleanse or purge especially traumatic or painful memories and experiences.

Another proven method to help reduce the negative impact of nightmares is through Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT).

In 2001, medical researchers at the University of New Mexico found IRT significantly improves sleep by cutting the incidence of disturbing nightmares in half.  The method also helps reduce the daytime symptoms of stress and trauma.

The IRT method involves deliberately recasting nightmares into a more favorable light.  The process goes something like this:  First identify a recurring nightmare that is bothering you.  Write down the imagery so you recognize and understand it.  Then imagine that nightmare in changed terms, whatever terms you want.  Change the nightmare in your mind intentionally.  Then write down the changed nightmare, which is now more of a dream with less negative connotations, so you understand it in detail.  Commit the new dream to memory.

Next, mentally practice or rehearse the changed dream in your mind for 5 to 20 minutes per day.  Continue this rehearsing every day until the nightmare is no longer a problem.  Basically, using this method, the nightmare over time loses its negative impact and fades away.

IRT is a variation of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that has been proven effective and is recommended as a standard of treatment by the American Academy of  Sleep Medicine.

In broader terms, CBT specifically designed for sleep can benefit most everyone with sleep problems.  Like IRT, the methods contained in CBT are drug-free, natural, and designed to get to the real root of the problem.  By doing this, sleep tends to improve naturally.  As a result of better sleep, daytime performance and overall personal happiness is enhanced.

For more information on using CBT methods to improve sleep, or to ask a sleep question, please feel free to visit us at

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, Nightmares, sleep

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