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More than Mozart and Beethoven: Piano chords, a cure to our nightmares?

Recent scientists have found a solution to our weekly nightmares, the solution being not as conventional as thought. Surprisingly, piano chords and simple sounds have been utilized to solve our night terrors.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/nuhasalam/" target="_self">Nuha Salam</a>

Nuha Salam

March 10, 2023

In 1781, Swiss artist Henry Fuseli painted a portrait, “The Nightmare.” The portrait itself featured the illustration of a demon sitting on top of a sleeping woman’s chest. This piece of art rapidly gained attention due to its rather haunted and dreamlike presence, but the real purpose of the painting was to show Henry’s perception of nightmares and his experience with sleep paralysis.

We’ve all had our fair share of nightmares keeping us up at night but – the fear of monsters lurking in our closets. According to a study cited by Medical News Today, fear is present in 75.8% of dreams in children between ages four and twelve. With these recurring fears, it is shocking that most people are unaware of a tangible solution to cease these terrorizing dreams.

Yet, recent scientists have found a very surprising answer to curing our normal night terrors. The solution is as simple as a piano chord. 

Nightmare disorder or parasomnia are repetitive undesired dreams during a sleep phase called rapid eye movement (REM). As the name states, REM is a stage in sleep that occurs around ninety minutes into sleeping where there are rapid movements in the eyes. However, this stage is also when humans typically have high brain activity, otherwise where our dreams are born.

To repair Nightmare Disorder, the typical treatment is a method called image rehearsal therapy (IRT), which is a simple treatment where patients are asked to change the storyline of their nightmare into one which makes them feel comfortable. With this treatment, neuroscientist Schwartz and her colleagues decided to strengthen the IRT with a technique called targeted memory reactivation (TMR). In targeted memory reactivation, a patient usually focuses on learning a piece of information in which a sound is played. This sound is then replayed over and over again in their sleep, serving as a cue and helping retain the information, as found in a UCLA neural study on rat brains in sleep, they found that sleep is an essential component in memory retainment. Like so, Schwartz utilized TMR during sleep to strengthen IRT. 

The study was done with thirty-six patients with nightmare disorder, all patients had IRT performed however half of them had piano chord sounds played repeatedly while performing the IRT. The experiment was tested with wireless headbands which sensed their sleep stages and electrical activity while replaying the chords during their sleep. For the patients which performed IRT with the sound, they were found with better results, having their weekly nightmare rate go from 3 to 0.2. This method was found efficient with the group for a long period of 3 months, while the normal IRT control group was not as successful. 

As surprising as it sounds, they found that a simple piano chord could have such a strong control over our memory response, therefore affecting our nightmares. Thus, it can be stated that our piano chords provide more use than Mozart and Beethoven. In fact, maybe a C major can provide a peaceful sleep for hundreds of thousands of people.

Perhaps the simplest solutions can solve our biggest problems.