What Are Nightmares?

We’ve all had nightmares. Nightmares are vividly realistic, disturbing dreams that wake you up from a deep sleep. Nightmares tend to occur most often during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep when most dreaming takes place. It is a disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear that awakens you. Nightmares are common in children but can happen at any age, and occasional nightmares usually are nothing to worry about. Nightmares may begin in children between 3 and 6 years old and tend to decrease after the age of 10. During the teen and young adult years, girls appear to have nightmares more often than boys do. Some people have them as adults or throughout their lives. Although nightmares are common, nightmare disorder is relatively rare. Nightmare disorder is when nightmares happen often, almost every night, cause distress, disrupt sleep, cause problems with daytime functioning or create fear of going to sleep.


What Is The Cause of Nightmare?


What Is The Cause of Nightmare


Many different factors can contribute to a higher risk of nightmares:

  • Stress and anxiety: Sad, traumatic, or worrisome situations that induce stress and fear may provoke nightmares. People with chronic stress and anxiety may be more likely to develop nightmare disorders.
  • Mental health conditions: Nightmares are often reported at much higher rates by people with mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
  • Certain drugs and medications: Using some types of illicit substances or prescription medications that affect the nervous system is associated with a higher risk of nightmares.
  • Withdrawal from some medications: Some medications suppress REM sleep, so when a person stops taking those medications, there is a short-term rebound effect of more REM sleep accompanied by more nightmares.
  • Sleep deprivation: After a period of insufficient sleep, a person often experiences a REM rebound that can trigger vivid dreams and nightmares.
  • Personal history of nightmares: In adults, a risk factor for nightmare disorder is a history of having had recurring nightmares during childhood and adolescence.
  • Narcolepsy: A sleep disorder characterized by extreme drowsiness during the day followed by quick naps or sleep attacks
  • Substance abuse:  Alcohol and recreational drug use or withdrawal can trigger nightmares.
  • Scary books and movies: For some people, reading scary books or watching frightening movies, especially before bed, can be associated with nightmares.

Though not fully understood, a genetic predisposition may exist that makes it more likely for frequent nightmares to run in a family. Some evidence indicates that people who have nightmares may have altered sleep architecture, meaning that they progress abnormally through sleep stages. Some studies have also found a correlation between nightmares and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a breathing disorder that causes fragmented sleep, although further research is needed to clarify this association.


What Are Most Nightmares About?


What Are Most Nightmares About


Nightmares can cause you to feel various emotions, including anger, sadness, guilt, fear, anxiety. You may continue to experience these emotions even after you wake up. Though the precise subjects of nightmares often vary from person-to-person, there are common themes that tend to occur with all. With that in mind, here’s your guide to the most common nightmare examples and what they mean:

  • Your teeth are falling out: One of the most common nightmares of all has to do with your teeth suddenly falling out of your mouth. You might see yourself in a mirror with nothing but gums. Maybe you’re just continually picking one tooth after another off the floor around you when you’re wandering through your dreamscape. Unsurprisingly, this dream has a lot to do with your self-esteem and how you look.
  • You’re being chased: Dreams about being chased are another of the most common nightmares for adults. You may be pursued by something logical, like a murderer, or a pack of rabid wolves. Or you might be chased by something more ridiculous like a group of hamburgers, or the documents you didn’t finish at work that day. Either way — the experience is incredibly frightening. According to psychologists and dream specialists, a chasing nightmare usually links back to the goals that you’re pursuing in your life. It links to your concern about not moving fast enough towards them.


You’re falling


  • You’re falling: When it comes to the most common nightmares, dreams about falling top the list, according to a survey conducted in 2016. Usually, when you have these dreams, you wake up with a jolt, feeling as though you’ve just hit the bed from some unperceivable height. Dreams about falling can indicate you’re worried about a lack of security or control.
  • You’re naked in a public place: This is another nightmare that will be familiar to many of our readers. If you’re imagining being naked in an inappropriate place, the chances are that you’re feeling vulnerable about something in your life. Your nightmare may also have something to do with your deep-seated insecurities.
  • You’re late or unprepared for something: Dreams like this indicate that you’re feeling overwhelmed in your day-to-day life.
  • You or someone you care about is dying: While all nightmares are frightening, this one can be as upsetting as it is terrifying. Dreaming about death is one of the most common nightmares in adults. This dream particularly happens during a time in your life when you’re facing your mortality. Sometimes, dreams about death can also indicate that a specific phase in your life is coming to an end.
  • You’re trapped: Dreams about being trapped are particularly nerve-wracking for people with claustrophobic tendencies. Although being trapped is one of the most common nightmares for adults, it’s also one of the easiest to interpret. If you’re worried about being trapped in your dreams, you probably feel restricted by something in your life.


You’re lost


  • You’re lost: Such dreams can be upsetting and generally suggest that you’re feeling a little lost in your real life.
  • You’ve been betrayed: As we grow up and get into serious relationships, nightmares about our connections with other people become increasingly common. One of the most common nightmares for someone in a partnership is that their partner is cheating on them.
  • You’re drowning or suffocating: If you’re drowning, or you’re surrounded by water, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the feelings that you’re trying to hold in. You may feel overworked, you could be dealing with grief, or you might have a lot of stress to handle right now.
  • You’ve been injured: Life-threatening attacks aren’t the only thing that you might worry about when you’re asleep. It’s very common for adults to dream about being hurt or attacked in some way. When people have a nightmare that involves getting injured or wounded, this usually indicates that they have some feeling of personal weakness. You’re maybe dealing with this aspect of your life right now.

Some parents worry that their babies’ nighttime crying means they’re having a nightmare. It’s a topic without a clear answer. Some babies may begin developing night terrors, which are uncommon, as early as 18 months of age, though they are more likely to happen in older children. Pregnancy nightmares aren’t uncommon, as noted in this 2016 study, and these are typically triggered by your emotions. This could be fear or anxiety about labor and delivery, or something happening to the baby. Nightmares with a dark shadow are also quite common. The shadows show that you are not satisfied with something. These dreams usually become a real nightmare and horrible. In general, the shadow proves the darkest aspect of your personality.


How Do I Stop Having Nightmares?


How Do I Stop Having Nightmares


If nightmares are a persistent problem, try these strategies:

  • Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime:  A consistent bedtime routine is important. Do quiet, calming activities — such as reading books, doing puzzles, or soaking in a warm bath — before bed. Meditation, deep breathing, or relaxation exercises may help, too. Also, make the bedroom comfortable and quiet for sleep.
  • Offer reassurances:  If your child is struggling with nightmares, be patient, calm, and reassuring. After your child awakens from a nightmare, respond quickly and soothe your child at the bedside. This may prevent future nightmares.
  • Talk about the dream. What happened? Who was in the dream? What made it scary? If a child, remind your child that nightmares aren’t real and can’t hurt you.
  • Put stress in its place: If stress or anxiety is an issue, talk about it. Practice some simple stress-relief activities, such as deep breathing or relaxation. A mental health professional can help if needed.
  • Provide comfort measures:  Your child might feel more secure if he or she sleeps with a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or other comfort objects. Leave your child’s door open at night so that he or she won’t feel alone. Leave your door open, too, in case your child needs comfort during the night.
  • Use a night light: Keep a night light on in your room. If you wake up during the night, the light may be reassuring.
  • Don’t watch or read something scary before sleeping: This behavior causes a lot of individuals to experience nightmares during their sleep.
  • Avoid stimulants: Taking stimulants before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine can all negatively affect your sleep.


What Vitamins Help You With Nightmares?


What Vitamins Help You With Nightmares


You may also benefit and from vitamin supplements or foods that are high in these vitamins and minerals:

  • Magnesium: Magnesium is critical for good sleep.
  • Vitamin D: It is linked to the maintenance of good sleep. A deficiency wreaks havoc on your ability to get restful sleep, inhibits your sleep duration, and increases your risk of sleep disturbances.
  • Multiple vitamins within a B-Complex: They supplement can impact your quality of sleep and help you remember your dreams.


Should You Write Down Your Nightmares?




Consider writing in a journal about both your nightmares and your real-life experiences during the day, doing so may make it easier to connect the dots and locate closure. It can also be powerful if you’re specifically focusing on the content of your dream. Try changing the outcome of your nightmare when you’re awake. This is especially effective with nightmares that are a result of past trauma. When doing this technique, be sure to write down all the details of the nightmare you can remember, then, when you get to the end of the most frightening part of the nightmare, rewrite it.

Write down as much of your bad dream that you can recall and then, thinking about a way to resolve it. The more you paint a mental picture of the solution, the easier it gets. It’s called imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT). And it’s important because even if you don’t remember all the details of your nightmare, the stress of it can linger.

Nightmares can be pretty unnerving and cause sleep disturbances along with a constant dread lingering if they are recurrent. However, there are ways to resolve them and there are ways to know and understand your dreams which may be helpful. Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into nightmares.

If you are curious to know and understand your dreams then we suggest THE DREAM CLASS by PATRICIA ELTINGE. This book gives a rare insight into what dreams mean and how they can be interpreted.


Credits © 2024 Patricia Eltinge .All photos by Patricia Eltinge.