Sometimes you wake up sweating, or shaking. Lying frightened in the dark, you find yourself feeling an intensely negative emotion, and you know you’ve just had a nightmare. You’re not alone. Most people, according to research, experience at least one nightmare during their lifetimes. These events cause intense emotional responses in the dreamers, described as either fear or horror. Let’s examine what they mean…
The word “nightmare” was originally used for the state of dreaming called “waking dreams,” which was associated with the REM phase of sleep.
Some common nightmares contain elements of danger such as falling, drowning, becoming disabled, losing a loved one, encountering strange and scary creatures, being murdered (or caught or attacked), becoming frozen or trapped, or facing death in some awful way. An extremely common theme is that of being chased. Most adults dream of being chased by an unknown male figure, while children dream about being chased by an animal or a scary fantasy person. Frequently, nightmares play on our fears, and we act them out – in a sense – while we sleep.
Sometimes, the cause of these types of dreams is nothing more than what we ate before going to bed. Eating often causes an increase in the body’s metabolism and thus, brain activity – which can stimulate nightmares. Other times, the cause is post-traumatic stress, from an event that happened in waking life (such as being captured or tortured). The human body seems to use nightmares as a release for the pressures suffered by the dreamer. Medication, illness (such as high fever) and drugs are other causes of nightmares. Other common settings in which nightmares can occur are times of great insecurity, emotional turmoil, depression or guilt.
Science has proven that nightmares occur as often as once a month on average. However, children under the age of five seem to be free of the occurrence. In other stages of life, nightmares occur as follows: they are most common in young children, occurring on average once per week, and very common in adolescents. The rate decreases in adults 25 and older.
Nightmares happen during REM sleep. This phase of sleep grows longer toward the later part of the dream cycle. So science tells us that the majority of nightmares occur between the middle of the night and the time we arise in the morning.
Some excellent techniques for reducing the stress of nightmares are writing them down in detail, or creating a different (and happier) ending. Other methods include talking to the major characters in the nightmare and asking them what they are attempting to do. The major idea is to calm yourself down, and to relax – so that you can better understand what your dreams are trying to tell you.
Sometimes nightmares occur when the psyche is trying to communicate something you should face up to in real life, but are just not “getting.” A reoccurring nightmare will try to present you with these “facts.”
Nightmares do not cause any physical harm, other than disturbed sleep. However, if a nightmare is just “stuffed down” into the psyche without resolution, we may find ourselves becoming very moody, depressed or irritable the next day.
Surprisingly, many people are not disturbed at all by their nightmares, but rather find them very fascinating. These people tend to dismiss their nightmares as “just dreams.” This viewpoint, according to researchers, clearly illustrates that the way we view our nightmares is more important than the nightmares themselves.
So next time you find yourself with that awful feeling of fear in your stomach, after waking up in the middle of the night – get up! Walk around, and try to fill your mind with positive thoughts. Then sit down, record that dream and consider what it might have been trying to tell you.
Has anyone had any nightmares they would like to share? Tell us here.