A new pilot study shows that virtual reality might be the answer for your reoccurring nightmares.
Nightmare disorder is a condition in which someone experiences reoccurring nightmares that induce significant levels of anxiety and stress. Even though most people are forced to endure occasional nightmares of some kind, the frequency of bad dreams associated with the disorder can dramatically impact a person’s livelihood, and it can often exacerbate other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
But new research from the Boston University School of Medicine showed that using virtual reality as a therapy tool for nightmares resulted in significantly reduced levels of anxiety, fewer nightmares, and reduced nightmare intensity.
“Current treatments for nightmares required too much time or taking a drug that essentially knocked you out for awhile, so we needed a treatment that was short, non-toxic and effective,” said study author Patrick McNamara of the Boston University School of Medicine.
The study, which was published in the journal Dreaming, involved 19 patients who attended eight therapy sessions over the course of four weeks. The patients were given Oculus Rift headsets that allowed them to see imagery associated with their nightmares which they were then able to manipulate and edit so that it was less frightening.
“We designed the treatment so that it can be adjusted and individualized,” McNamara told PsyPost. “For example, some people’s nightmares are characterized by threatening/arousing images while others are characterized by intense controlling images. The VR app we developed allows users to choose to work on whatever imagery type most characterizes their particular nightmare history and thus this ‘individualized medicine’ approach may more effectively help people with chronic nightmares. The next step is to develop a version for kids with chronic nightmares.”