How to Cure Nightmares

Put a stop to recurring nightmares. Facing them head-on may be the key.

By PT Staff, published on November 7, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

"You do have control of what's going on in your dreams," says Joanne Davis, a psychologist from the University of Tulsa, in Oklahoma. She has come up with a method of treatment that may be especially useful for those exposed to a major trauma.

Davis has a two-fold approach to curing nightmares. Before directly contending with the bad dream, she offers tips for a better night's sleep such as avoiding the after-dinner cup of coffee and trying relaxation techniques focusing on breathing and stretching.

Directly confronting the nightmare is the crux of treatment. Sufferers write down their dreams and, in a group setting, analyze what makes the dreams terrifying. The dreams typically deal with a lack of power, trust, intimacy, safety or esteem. Subjects rewrite their nightmares, diffusing the worst segments. Before going to bed, they visualize the sanitized version.

"People who have nightmares don't talk about them, they try not to think about them—it's too scary," she says. But she surmises that exposure is the key element to overcoming nightmares.

Her study in Clinical Case Studies, describes successful treatment of an adolescent rape victim, as well as others who have had success.