What Your Nightmares Mean

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.

2 thoughts on “What Your Nightmares Mean

  1. Tara Keehn

    I have had vivid nightmares of being tortured my whole life. I am not an abuse vicitm. Had a pretty normal life. My earliest torture dream was sitting next my Mom at the dinner table, and a lady coming in and strapping my hands to the table, and placing plates under my hands, and pouring boiling water over my hands until my flesh was cooked, raw, and falling off. I was about 8, and my concern was I would not be able to draw.

    Last night, which prompted me to look up nightmares of torture (and how I came across this site), I had a dream where I was watching a scene, like in a movie. A rich woman was talking to her husband, and they left a hotel room for the evening. Then it (my dream) shoots to the other room, where a man is being killed (by desire of the man who just left) by his head being dipped in acid. All of a sudden, I am that man, and my head is being dipped in acid. They bring me up, and then my 9 year old son has a sledge hammer and is beating my head in.

    I have a good relationship with my son. I don’t do drugs. This is a weird freakin’ dream.

  2. Melissa

    In my dream I was being chased by a mummy in a maze and I was running in the middle of the maze where the maze starts. The mummy kept chasing me and when I went in the middle of the maze there was a treasure case and it was filled with gems that I didn’t even know that there was a treasure case there. Then I started trying to get the gems and that was the reason why the mummy was chasing me in the fisrt place and the reason the mummy was chasing me was because the mummy didn’t want me to get the treasure case. I kept trying to grab the treasure case, but I couldn’t because the mummy was right behide me and I couldn’t get free from the mummy and there was no escape and then the nightmare ended.


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