Nightmares end as dreamers learn to make new script

Three times a week, year after year, Emily's nights wer brutalized by stark and vivid terror.

The nightmare began simply: "I am sitting on a couch with a girlfriend . . . and she says to follow her. We meet a blond woman held hostage by male captors. I realize we are now hostages."


The 33-year-old courtroom stenographer tells of being carried into a room where each of the hostages' throats is cut.

"I awaken, clutching and protecting my throat, crying out, 'Stop!' My heart is pounding and I am sweating all over. I can't go back to sleep."


Those horrors have faded for Emily after two months of dream therapy with Dr. Barry Krakow, a sleep disorder expert and the co-author of a new book on fighting back against bad dreams.

The book, "Conquering Bad Dreams & Nightmares: A Guide to Understanding, Interpretation and Cure" (Berkley Books, $8.95), by Dr. Krakow and Dr. Joseph Neidhardt, tells Emily's story along with those of other nightmare-sufferers.

Even the most horrific nightmares can be banished, the authors say, with a simple three-step process.

The method? Write down your dream, change the nightmare any way you wish, and rehearse the changed dream before you fall asleep.

There are many theories about the cause of nightmares. They range from ancient beliefs that supernatural beings were invading the body to fears that certain foods, such as cheese, would cause them.

Then there was Sigmund Freud, who saw dreams as a means of disguising thoughts and sexual fantasies that we would be unable to deal with while awake. Nightmares could be an attempt at self-punishment for unacceptable thoughts, Freud theorized.

Children have more nightmares than any other age group. They dream about falling assault and rivalry with parents.

Parents shouldn't be concerned about nightmares unless the content or frequency seems to point to a specific problem, says Dr. Krakow, a consultant to the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of New Mexico.


Whatever the cause, the method for cure -- imagery rehearsal -- seems to work for nightmare sufferers. It has been a part of scientific literature for 50 or 60 years. "We have done the first controlled studies and refined the technique. We've tried to figure out what works best and easiest," Dr. Krakow says.