Updated at: 07-05-2022 - By: Jane Brody

What’s going on with my teeth? Are you all alone in the wilderness? Why can’t I shout when I’m being chased? We’ve all had vivid dreams like this, which cause us to feel sick to our stomachs and leave us feeling uneasy for days or weeks afterwards.

No matter how many times you’ve had a nightmare, you’ve probably had at least one that was frightening. A terrible night’s sleep can be disrupted by nightmares, which can make it difficult to get back to sleep and cause sleep anxiety in children and adults alike.

Mystery abounds in the realms of dreams and nightmares. Since each of us has a distinct dream world that is fundamentally subjective and difficult to record consistently, this is a difficult field of neuroscience and psychology research.

How To Avoid Nightmares & Bad Dreams - The Sleep Matters Club

Many theories have been put forward, but no one knows for sure why we dream, what triggers a particular dream, or how it all works. Some intriguing hypotheses and new studies on nightmares, however, provide insight and potential solutions to the problem of nightmares. Check out the rest of this article to learn more about how to deal with terrible nightmares and what you can do about them.

What Is a Nightmare?

Fear, dread, distress, or anxiety-inducing dreams are known as nightmares. While terrible dreams can be scary, they’re not the same as nightmares, which force the sleeper to wake up and experience overwhelming feelings upon waking. The details of a nightmare are often vividly recalled by those who awaken during it.

When you’re sleeping, your brain is working overtime at specific points throughout the night. Even if you’re sleeping, your mind is still absorbing energy at the same rate or even more than it does while you’re up. Your muscles are paralyzed, but your eyes are moving at a quick pace. During REM sleep, your brain is still firing out orders in the motor cortex, so this momentary paralysis is a good thing.

The latter half of your sleep is when nightmares are most likely to occur, when you’re in the REM stages of sleep. Despite the fact that nothing is known about why we dream in general, prominent hypotheses range from regulating subconscious thoughts to sorting out memories and learning knowledge to completely random chemical impulses. As for why some dreams evolve into nightmares, there isn’t much evidence out there, but it’s thought that some daytime elements can play a part.

Even while nightmares and horrible dreams are typically linked with childhood, both children and adults experience them. An estimated 10 to 50 percent of children aged three to six have disturbing dreams, while an estimated 80 percent of children aged seven to nine have these kinds of nightmares on occasion.

Even though nightmares are more common in children and teens, adults are not exempt from them. 8-29 percent of adults suffer monthly nightmares, and 2-6 percent have weekly nightmares, according to a study of the scientific literature. Compared to younger folks, older adults are 20 to 50 percent less likely to suffer from nightmares.

Behind the Scenes: The Factors That Influence Dream Content

What did you see in your most recent nightmare? While we all have our own unique stories, there are a few common threads that can be drawn from the answers to this question. In reality, studies have shown that our nightmares often have a lot in common.

253 nightmares and 431 terrible dreams were examined by researchers at the University of Montreal in 2014. There was a strong correlation between dreams and physical aggressiveness, as well as threats to life and death. Natural disasters and war were more common motifs in men’s nightmares, whereas interpersonal problems were more common in women’s. The most prevalent feeling elicited by dreams was dread, although others included despair, disbelief, horror, and disgust.

German researchers revealed that the five most prevalent nightmare themes were falling, being chased, being immobilized and the loss of a family member or a loved one.

We don’t know for sure what causes nightmares or why we suffer from them, but elements like our relationships, everyday activities and certain medications all play a role.

Your Experiences

Most people’s dreams involve both literal and abstract parts of their waking lives. As an example, your dreams may feature things such as studying, test-taking, dealing with a situation you’re currently dealing with, working, family, or doing the same thing over and over again. Worry, tension, and other negative parts of our daily lives, such as conflicts, might manifest themselves in dreams.

Anxiety and Stress

Moving, changing responsibilities at school or work, or failing at a task can all cause temporary stress and anxiety, as can more serious events like divorce, the death of a family member, trauma, or anxiety disorders. Sleep deprivation is often accompanied by feelings of tension and anxiety, and these emotions can also set off a nightmare.

One recurrent motif you may have seen in your own nightmares is anxiety about one’s own performance. According to one study, 15% of German athletes reported having upsetting nightmares prior to a major sporting event, most of which were concerning their athletic failure. It’s not uncommon for students to have nightmares about upcoming examinations or finals, even after they’ve graduated.

Media

Anecdotal evidence suggests that scary, suspenseful, or suspenseful shows or even fear-inducing news broadcasts produce poor dreams. Many of us may recall a time when media imagery and circumstances appeared in our dreams, despite the fact that they were difficult to study. Some people may experience worry and tension as a result of scary media (setting the stage for distressing dreams).

Bad dreams and nightmares in children | Raising Children Network

Ninety percent of college students were able to recall a frightening TV episode or other media encounter from their infancy or adolescence, and half indicated it altered their sleep or eating patterns. Surprisingly, one-fourth of the pupils reported that they were still bothered by anxiousness. The most common phobia-inducing stimuli were blood, injuries, distressing sounds, and distorted visuals.

Depression

Recent research has linked severe sadness and a low self-image to an increased risk of nightmares. According to their findings, depression was the strongest indicator of frequent dreams, with 28% of patients reporting this symptom compared to the sample average of 4%.

Personality

One study indicated that persons with personality qualities such as distrustfulness, alienation, and emotional estrangement were more likely to suffer from chronic nightmares than those without these characteristics. Ernest Hartmann, a long-time dream researcher, believes that those with a more open personality and greater creativity are more likely to suffer from nightmares.

A political ideology is also a fascinating connection. According to a survey of college students, conservatives had more nightmares and dream content that was more frightening than liberals, although liberals had more dreams overall.

Environment

Temperature and comfort have been shown in sleep studies to influence sleep quality, and it’s possible that the environment has an effect on the content of dreams as well. People who sleep in a room that is either too hot or too cold are more likely to wake up during the night and remember more of their dreams because they are less able to sleep.

Maintain a good night’s sleep by making sure you’re resting on a mattress that is comfortable.

Smell may also play a part. Sleepers were exposed to the smells of rotten eggs or roses after entering REM sleep in a study in Germany. Those who were awakened by the scent of roses had more positive dream content, whereas those who were awakened by the scent of rotten eggs had more negative dream content.

Traumatic Experiences

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurrent or more frequent nightmares, which have been related to a variety of traumatic situations, including domestic violence and natural catastrophes.

Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to suffer from nightmares than the general population, with research showing that between 52% and 96% of those with PTSD suffer from them on a regular basis. National Center for PTSD indicates that trauma-related nightmares tend to include comparable components or motifs, including repeats of the incident.

Medications

Nightmare frequency may be affected by drugs that affect neurotransmitters, in particular. Antidepressants and barbiturates that interfere with REM sleep are among them. If you start having nightmares after taking a new drug, talk to your doctor about it.

Eating Before Bed

Your metabolism and dreams may also be affected if you snack too close to bedtime. According to a Lifehacker article, one study discovered a correlation between junk food and nightmares, while another indicated that a spicy dinner eaten close to bedtime disrupts sleep.

Other Influential Factors

  • People who suffer from insomnia and exhaustion are more likely to suffer from frequent nightmares, according to a recent Finnish study.
  • People with sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep problems are more prone to suffer from nightmares than those who don’t.
  • Migraines: Migraine headaches may be linked with more recurrent dreams and nightmares.
  • Migraine headaches may be connected to more frequent nightmares and dreams.

Minimizing Nightmares and Brushing Off Bad Dreams

As far as controlling nightmares are concerned, there are just a few schools of thought to choose from. You may not have to deal with nightmares as often as you’d want or as severely, but for those who do, here are a few possible techniques to prevent them or reduce their severity.

Establish a sleep routine

Sleep better and avoid nightmares by developing a regular bedtime routine.

According to Martin, nightmares occur when we are in the phase of rapid eye movement sleep, where our muscles relax and we dream. During REM sleep, waking up allows for the recall of the dream and its subsequent anxiety.

Sleeping better and waking up less often are two of the most effective treatments for adult nightmares, according to Martin.

Cut back on alcohol

Martin claims that drinking alcohol can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night, which may assist you remember your dreams.

Many individuals use alcohol to help them relax and go asleep at the end of a long day, but this isn’t the best approach to do so, the author said. In place of caffeine, consider herbal teas and other sleep-inducing liquids. Talk to your partner or read a book instead if drinking is all you do to unwind.

Don’t eat before bed

It has been found that snacking might increase your metabolism, which in turn causes your brain to become more active, resulting in nightmares.

Review your medications

By interfering with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, several drugs may cause nightmares.

It’s “certainly a reason to talk to their doctor” about drug schedules or alternatives if people can identify that their nightmares either started or escalated when they had a change in the medicine they were taking, Martin added.

My son's frequent nightmares are keeping us all from a good night's sleep

Practice stress-relieving activities

Nightmares can be eased by practicing progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing muscles simultaneously as you breathe in and out.

Dreams engage the body’s natural response to imminent danger, Tal explained via email. “The sympathetic nervous system, the ‘fight or flight system,’ is activated by nightmares,” Tal added.

Journal your worries

Write down all of your anxieties so that they don’t come back to haunt you at night. Tal asserts that journaling can be an effective tool for reducing stress and helping people cope with nightmares.

Don’t watch or read scary content before bed

Martin advised us to “spend some energy connecting with things that are more emotionally neutral or even pleasant” before bedtime because our evening observations can appear throughout sleep.

Rewrite the ending

Imagery rehearsal therapy, according to Tal, is beneficial “when the recurring nightmares display comparable themes and patterns,” she explained.

The habit of writing down the narrative aspects of a dream, which can be learnt behavior for the brain, is essential. Once you’ve done that, rewrite your dream to have a happy conclusion. If or when you start having a horrible dream again, repeat out loud, “If or when I have the beginnings of this much better dream, I will be able to instead experience this much better dream.”

Use a white noise machine

“For people who either don’t like it to be entirely quiet or who are disturbed by disturbances they can’t control during the night, background noise ‘is a decent solution,'” Martin said in an interview.

She also recommended using a fan, a white noise machine, or an app for several nights in a row to help your brain adjust.

Check up on your mental health

Consult a therapist or sleep specialist if nothing seems to help and you’re still getting nightmares.

There may be a more serious issue at play, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, Tal said. In some cases, treating both the symptom and the disease simultaneously may be beneficial.

Talk to a Doctor

If recurrent nightmares are interfering with your ability to get a good night’s sleep and are negatively impacting your general health, you should speak with your doctor about possible medical or mental health solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do Nightmares Mean?

There’s a lot of curiosity in finding out what dreams and nightmares are all about.
Certain nightmare scenarios may be used as a metaphor for anything going on in our life, according to certain health care providers. For example, if you have repeated nightmares, this could be a sign that you still have an issue to deal with. If you’re constantly being chased by a monster in your dreams, it could mean that you’re trying to escape something in your life that is emotionally painful.

What Are Common Themes in Bad Dreams?

Common nightmare themes include death, illness, and threats, according to psychology researcher Geneviève Robert. It’s a fact that men are more likely to fantasize about crisis scenarios such as floods and war. Women’s stories, on the other hand, tend to focus more on interpersonal tension.

Are Nightmares a Disorder?

Having nasty nightmares from time to time is quite natural, but if they happen frequently, it’s something to be concerned about. Dream apnea is classified a parasomnia by the Mayo Clinic. Those who suffer from parasomnias have unexpected or disturbing sensations while they sleep.
When a patient is unable to get enough rest because of their nightmares, they have been diagnosed with a condition known as nightmare disorder. An overnight sleep study may be recommended by your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, so be sure to consult with him or her about this option.

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