How nightmares can be overcome

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Defeat nightmares on your own with special therapy

About five percent of Germans regularly suffer from nightmares. Those affected often describe their nightly horror trips as very cruel and threatening, so that many are already afraid of falling asleep. Special therapies can show ways how those affected can direct themselves and the nightmare loses its horror.

Nightmares are characterized by strong negative feelings
For Sabine S., falling asleep every night is a pain. "In the past two years, there has hardly been a night without nightmares," she reports. Waking up in sweat is also nothing unusual for the executive assistant. Most of the time she dreams of being in a white empty room without windows and doors. Suddenly the walls, ceiling and floor would move towards each other so that the space would become ever narrower. “Most of the time I wake up just before I get crushed. Then I'm scared to death, ”says Sabine S. It often takes hours for her to calm down. According to studies, just like them, about five percent of Germans regularly suffer from nightmares.

"It is typical of nightmares that they go hand in hand with strong negative feelings," explains expert Johanna Thünker from the University of Düsseldorf. In addition to fear, there is also strong disgust, shame or anger. "These emotions become stronger as the nightmare progresses, so you usually wake up as a result." Those affected can usually remember the contents of the nightmare in detail, as they are experienced very intensively and deal with existential dangers. “You yourself or a close person are threatened with death, you are persecuted, abandoned, or your own self-esteem is attacked, for example because you fail miserably,” reports Thünker. Professor Michael Schredl from the Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim emphasizes: "Nightmares in themselves are not bad." Health can only be harmed if they occur frequently. “If you have nightmares at least once a week in a period of about six months, that's a clue for a possible nightmare disorder. Then action is the order of the day. "

Fear of falling asleep through nightmares
Many sufferers would consciously or unconsciously delay falling asleep for fear of nightmares, explains the head of the Institute for Consciousness and Dream Research in Vienna, Brigitte Holzinger. However, this behavior leads to a vicious circle from which it is difficult to break out. Due to the lack of sleep, one's own mood deteriorates, concentration and performance decrease and in the long term even cardiovascular diseases can occur. "Nightmares often occur in people who have experienced something traumatic or who are in a stressful and stressful life situation," says Holzinger. According to scientists, sensitive and creative people are probably primarily at risk. Four to twelve year old children are also more likely to have nightmares. "It is probably because they are going through an exciting development phase in which they are constantly learning something new."

Treat nightmares with Replay Therapy
Although nightmares are a separate clinical picture recognized by health insurance companies, they often occur in combination with other mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders.

Experts often use so-called Imagine Repeat Therapy or Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) to treat nightmares. "The person concerned takes on the role of the director and invents a new ending that is less frightening," explains Thünker. The person concerned first writes down his nightmare in detail. On this basis, the fear-triggering elements are worked out with the help of the therapist. In the next step, less frightening alternatives are worked out, with which the fear elements of the nightmare are then replaced. The new dream version should match the old one. "For example, a dark car park turns into a well-lit one, and the supposed pursuer takes another path," explains Thünker. Then the person concerned writes down the new alternative dream and imagines it several times a day to transfer it to the nightmare. "The IRT method has had the highest success rate so far," reports Schredl. Those affected would rarely dream the new dream version in detail. "But the original nightmare only occurs in a weakened form and no longer as often," explains Thünker. (ag)

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