A meta-analysis of imagery rehearsal for post-trauma nightmares: effects on nightmare frequency, sleep quality, and posttraumatic stress

Clin Psychol Rev. 2012 Aug;32(6):566-74. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2012.06.002. Epub 2012 Jun 30.


This meta-analysis evaluates the efficacy of imagery rehearsal as a treatment for nightmares, general sleep disturbance, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Bibliographic databases and cited references were searched to identify clinical trials of imagery rehearsal in individuals with post-trauma nightmares. Thirteen studies met inclusion criteria and reported sleep and post-traumatic stress outcomes in sufficient detail to calculate effect sizes. Results indicate that imagery rehearsal had large effects on nightmare frequency, sleep quality, and PTSD symptoms from the initial to post-treatment assessments. These effects were sustained through 6 to 12 months follow-up. Furthermore, interventions that included both imagery rehearsal and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia resulted in greater treatment-related improvement in sleep quality than imagery rehearsal alone. Combined treatment did not improve outcomes for PTSD or nightmares. Notably, effect sizes were small in the single study that included an active-treatment control condition. Future research should identify necessary and sufficient components of interventions for trauma-related sleep disturbance and post-traumatic stress (e.g., exposure, cognitive reappraisal, sleep and circadian regulation).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Dreams / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Implosive Therapy / methods
  • Male
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy