How virtual reality might help fight recurring nightmares

How Virtual Reality Might Help Fight Recurring Nightmares section is one based on the Health and Medical Updates class, written during our publisher Linda Norton on February 1, 2019, those article maybe want to search with that tags list Fight, nightmares, reality, recurring, virtual. We're happy to pleasant you together with providing those anothers article concerning health along with we always updating these post daily.


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You might say that Patrick McNamara is in a frightening line of work. As a sleep researcher, he’s hunting for new ways to treat people with nightmare disorder (also known as dream anxiety disorder). Being chased by a malevolent entity, McNamara says, is one of the most common recurring nightmares that patients report experiencing over and over again.

“Very often, people with chronic nightmares report dreaming about being chased or attacked by supernatural or demonic beings,” says McNamara, a Boston University School of Medicine associate professor of neurology. “They can’t really see their attackers’ faces but they know their intent is to harm them. People also report being chased by animals like snakes or bears. Bears are very frequent in these types of dreams, where you’re trying to get safe, throwing up obstacles between you and the attacker, feeling like you’re about to be attacked.”

A nightmare like that might give anyone a bit of anxiety. But terrifying dreams, if they keep happening, can induce far more than just fleeting fear. McNamara says recurring nightmares can have profound long-term effects, especially for children who experience them. In the US, between half and two-thirds of children and up to 15 percent of adults have frequent nightmares.

“Recurring nightmares are really significant predictors,” he says. “They foretell mental health trouble.”

For children, that trouble can come in the form of adolescent and adult psychosis, including anxiety, depression, stress, and suicidal ideation. In adults, distressing nightmares can often be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the documented clinical effects of nightmares—including distress, loss of sleep, and generalized anxiety—McNamara says we still lack easy-to-use, effective treatments for nightmare disorders.

Imagery rehearsal therapy, the current gold standard for treatment, attempts to teach patients to replace nightmare imagery with less frightening versions. According to McNamara, success of the treatment is varied and typically short term because it relies on a person’s ability and willingness to conjure up realistic nightmare imagery in their mind’s eye, which some patients can do better than others. Naturally, most young children are even less capable of willfully controlling an imagined visual narrative than adolescents or adults.

How can you stop recurring nightmares?

Research in the last decade has hinted that modern technology may enable a more tangible approach to treating nightmare disorders. In 2010, a Grant MacEwan University psychologist, Jayne Gackenbach found that people who played video games before bed may have better awareness and control in their dreams, which could help prevent distressing nightmares. Then, in 2011, Gackenbach found that soldiers who played warfare-themed video games were less likely than nongamers to suffer from feeling distress and helplessness in their dreams.

The takeaway from those studies? Platforms like video games that exercise a person’s ability to control and manipulate simulated imagery—rather than imagery conjured up in their mind’s eye—could have therapeutic benefits for people with nightmare disorders. Looking out to the next evolution of visual technology, McNamara became very interested in whether virtual reality could be an even more effective tool.

“Virtual reality immerses you in a 3-D environment and the imagery is quite intense,” McNamara says. How intense? The sensory inputs can be so all-consuming that “even for people who do it often, you can get nausea because it destabilizes the inner brain mechanisms about balance.”

Virtual reality programs place users into artificial environments where they experience and manipulate visuals that seemingly exist right in front of their own eyes. In this way, McNamara says, VR is able to take the burden of imagery generation off of the patient, immersing them in nightmarish imagery through interactive systems like Oculus Rift.

How virtual reality might help fight recurring nightmares
In a virtual reality environment, study participants were directed to make intense imagery less scary, such as using a drawing tool to cover up this great white shark’s teeth as it swam toward them. Credit: Dreaming

Teaming up with Wesley J. Wildman, a Boston University School of Theology professor of philosophy of religion and expert in artificial, computer-simulated environments, McNamara designed a pilot study to examine if virtual reality therapy could help people with recurring nightmares. The duo, who are cofounding directors of the Center for Mind and Culture, has previously worked together to explore how…

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