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MSU psychology program seeking participants in nightmare study


Isabelle Altman



Fourth-year Mississippi State University graduate student Kat Speed is looking for people to participate in her Nightmare Treatment Study. 


Specifically, Speed is looking for active or former military members 18 or older who experience frequent nightmares -- once per week or more, she said. 


"With nightmares ... whether it's a specific trauma that you keep reliving over and over again or you're just having really scary and disturbing dreams over and over again every night not related to a trauma, if that's happening constantly, it's going to kind of spill over into your daytime," Speed said. 


Speed and her professor Michael Nadorff even referenced studies which suggest correlation between frequent nightmares and suicidal tendencies. Given 15 percent of college students suffer from at least one nightmare a week that affects their sleeping patterns, Speed decided to focus her dissertation on nightmare treatment. 


"Our lab has found consistently stronger associations between nightmares and suicidal behavior even after we accounted for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder," Nadorff said. "So that seems to be a novel predictor (of suicide) that a lot of people aren't taking into account, which is why we study nightmares." 


Speed's experiment will look at how effective treatment for severe nightmares is when therapists administer the treatment in person versus over a Smartphone app. 




Image rehearsal therapy 


Speed's research will specifically focus on imagery rehearsal therapy, which essentially helps replace a nightmarish feature of the dream with something less disturbing. 


"You take one of your nightmares and you say, 'Change this any way you want. Change who's in it ... Change any aspect of it. You can have superpowers,'" Nadorff said. "... And then what you do is you practice that using visual imagery a couple times a day. 


"Usually, one of two things happens," he added. "Either you just flat out stop having the old dream or you start having the new dream." 


It's a treatment Nadorff specializes in -- he's the only person in the state who treats nightmares this way. During his internship, he treated a veteran who had a recurring dream of driving a bus full of soldiers about to be killed. Nadorff helped him instead imagine he was driving his minivan. In the minivan were his children and his father -- who had died before his children could meet them. His children never being able to meet his father had always been one of his biggest regrets, he told Nadorff. 


"The next week ... this guy is crying in my waiting room," Nadorff said. 


The veteran had begun having the new dream in which his children got to spend time with his father. 


"It meant so much to (him) to actually have that experience," he said. 


He said cases like that veteran's are why he does what he does -- along with the general benefits of helping people, particularly people at risk of suicide and other mental health problems, get to sleep. 


"You overall improve their quality of life," Speed said. "Their health is going to be better, their daily interactions with people are going to be better, any other mental health concern that they're having is going to improve drastically." 


For more information on Speed's study, visit




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