Be it falling from the top of a tall building or being chased after by a one-eyed monster, we’ve all experienced nightmares that range from scary to just plain weird. Nightmare disorders are not a common phenomenon - in fact, only about 2-6% of the population experience them as a chronic condition.
Sleep scientists still know relatively little about dreams - where they come from, how they’re formed, and what happens to us while we’re experiencing them.
Extensive studies have looked into the significance of nightmares, and while we might not understand them thoroughly, there are still simple ways we can begin to comprehend why they might happen.
Here’s everything we know about these bedtime terrors:
Nightmares are a kind of bad dream that forces you to wake up from your sleep. Unlike bad dreams, during which you have an awareness of something irrational happening, nightmares can leave you in a state of terror even after you’ve woken up from them.
Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep, a phase of rest in which your brain waves can actually closely mirror what it looks like when you’re awake. In fact, during REM sleep, your brain can actually be consuming more energy than it does when you’re awake.
A lot of your processing occurs during this phase of sleep. This means anything from major trauma to minor setbacks can come up during REM sleep. The resulting activity is what we experience as dreams. Many scientists suggest that nightmares can therefore be understood as stress or challenges you’ve absorbed while you’re awake.
You might also find yourself experiencing nightmares after having witnessed something scary, without being in danger yourself. Big fan of horror movies? If you’re seeing some of the same monsters pop up in your dream world, it might be time to rethink your love of Netflix before bedtime.
A study conducted at the University of Montreal surveyed participants on their bad dreams and nightmares and found that the most common include ones involving physical violence, death, or threats of health. There was also a difference in gender, with men’s nightmares involving more external conflict, whereas women’s nightmares focused on interpersonal ones, specifically ones that would elicit emotions ranging from sadness to disgust.
So why do we get stuck with certain kinds of nightmares over others?
Your experiences can shape and form a lot of your dreaming. Stress that appears in our day-to-day life can easily make its way into your subconscious one too. This is yet another reason it’s crucial you’re able to learn how to manage anxiety since being unable to do so can cause disruptions in the way you sleep.
Chronic nightmares can also be a symptom of mental illness, such as depression. According to another study conducted at the University of British Columbia, nightmares can also be linked to traumatic experiences and is a telltale sign of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Your diet can also play a surprising role in the quality of your nightmares. Be sure to have a quick look over any medication you have to take in the long-term since this can actually also impact the quality of your sleep. Snacking too close before bedtime and eating junk food that is high in fats can also have an impact on your dreams.
When you’re trying to work out what might be causing you nightmares, it’s important to be familiar with the aspects of your lifestyle that might be contributing to a disruptive sleep cycle.
At their worst, nightmares can create sleep anxiety, making it harder to achieve a good, restorative night of sleep.
It’s important to finetune your sleep hygiene so that you’re as comfortable as possible when you’re winding down for the day.
Here are a couple of fail-proof ways of sharpening your sleep hygiene for better sleep:
While most adults will have experienced a nightmare or two in their lifetime, nightmares are by no means something to be fearful of. With the right approach, and special attention to your sleep hygiene, you’re going to find a good, peaceful night’s sleep is easier than you think it is. Happy dreaming!
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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.
Do you experience nightmares? Share your thoughts in the comments.