Sufferers of chronic nightmares, on the other hand, are taught to fight off their terrifying dreams with techniques of lucid dreaming.
For example, a 35-year-old woman came to the Dream and Nightmare Lab for help with a recurrent nightmare she'd suffered for 20 years, in which she's hiding from a savage mob, intent on killing and mutilating everyone in its path.
Working with Zadra, the woman rehearsed strategies for confronting her nightmarish pursuers and practiced the lucidity skills that would help her seize control of the dream.
One week later, when the dream occurred again, the woman confronted the mob assertively. "I'm not going to hide anymore!" she shouted. Immediately, the mob quelled, someone shouted "Cut!" and she realized she was on a large movie set. The film's director approached to congratulate her for a good performance. She never had the dream again.
Dr. Zadra also once helped his 6-year-old nephew put an end to a terrifying nightmare.
"My nephew was having dreams in which he'd be attacked by a flock of owls," said Zadra. "They'd swoop down and peck viciously at his head. He was very upset by it."
"I told him not to run from the owls," Zadra explained. "I said, 'Maybe they want to play with you and when you run from them it makes them mad.' I told him to ask the owls to be his friends."
"The next time he had the dream, he did what I told him," said Zadra. "The owls responded by inviting him to fly with them. So the nightmare turned into a very pleasant flying dream. My nephew is 14 now," Zadra said, "and he still dreams of the owls. He calls them his dream allies."
More Electrodes — and an Inflatable Cuff
Fighting dreams with dreams. Pretty cool. But hey, speaking of recurrent nightmares, guess what: I'm all wired up and ready for another sleep study. Yes, I just spent 45 minutes with a very nice young woman named Nancy who pasted some 25 electrodes to my face, scalp and torso, giving me all the visual panache of one of those cheesy 1960s monsters on Outer Limits. I'm part of a research project, see, doing my bit for science. No hose-up-the-nose, thank God, but Dr. Zadra is going to wrap inflatable cuffs around my thighs, and when I slip into REM phase, he'll pump them up, and we'll see how it affects my dreams. I'll fill you in in my next dispatch. In the meanwhile, I think I'm supposed to have a nightmare. I'm hoping, instead, to have my new favorite dream — that's the one where we all go over to Dr. Z's for lobster.