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What nightmares mean: Decode Your Nightmares | Everyday Health


Nightmare disorder – Symptoms and causes


A nightmare 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. 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, cause distress, disrupt sleep, cause problems with daytime functioning or create fear of going to sleep.


You’re more likely to have a nightmare in the second half of your night. Nightmares may occur rarely or more frequently, even several times a night. Episodes are generally brief, but they cause you to awaken, and returning to sleep can be difficult.

A nightmare may involve these features:

  • Your dream seems vivid and real and is very upsetting, often becoming more disturbing as the dream unfolds.
  • Your dream storyline is usually related to threats to safety or survival, but it can have other disturbing themes.
  • Your dream awakens you.
  • You feel scared, anxious, angry, sad or disgusted as a result of your dream.
  • You feel sweaty or have a pounding heartbeat while in bed.
  • You can think clearly upon awakening and can recall details of your dream.
  • Your dream causes distress that keeps you from falling back to sleep easily.

Nightmares are only considered a disorder if you experience:

  • Frequent occurrences
  • Major distress or impairment during the day, such as anxiety or persistent fear, or bedtime anxiety about having another nightmare
  • Problems with concentration or memory, or you can’t stop thinking about images from your dreams
  • Daytime sleepiness, fatigue or low energy
  • Problems functioning at work or school or in social situations
  • Behavior problems related to bedtime or fear of the dark

Having a child with nightmare disorder can cause significant sleep disturbance and distress for parents or caregivers.

When to see a doctor

Occasional nightmares aren’t usually a cause for concern. If your child has nightmares, you can simply mention them at a routine well-child exam. However, consult your doctor if nightmares:

  • Occur frequently and persist over time
  • Routinely disrupt sleep
  • Cause fear of going to sleep
  • Cause daytime behavior problems or difficulty functioning


Nightmare disorder is referred to by doctors as a parasomnia — a type of sleep disorder that involves undesirable experiences that occur while you’re falling asleep, during sleep or when you’re waking up. Nightmares usually occur during the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The exact cause of nightmares is not known.

Nightmares can be triggered by many factors, including:

  • Stress or anxiety. Sometimes the ordinary stresses of daily life, such as a problem at home or school, trigger nightmares. A major change, such as a move or the death of a loved one, can have the same effect. Experiencing anxiety is associated with a greater risk of nightmares.
  • Trauma. Nightmares are common after an accident, injury, physical or sexual abuse, or other traumatic event. Nightmares are common in people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Sleep deprivation. Changes in your schedule that cause irregular sleeping and waking times or that interrupt or reduce the amount of sleep you get can increase your risk of having nightmares. Insomnia is associated with an increased risk of nightmares.
  • Medications. Some drugs — including certain antidepressants, blood pressure medications, beta blockers, and drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease or to help stop smoking — can trigger nightmares.
  • Substance misuse. Alcohol and recreational drug use or withdrawal can trigger nightmares.
  • Other disorders. Depression and other mental health disorders may be linked to nightmares. Nightmares can happen along with some medical conditions, such as heart disease or cancer. Having other sleep disorders that interfere with adequate sleep can be associated with having nightmares.
  • Scary books and movies. For some people, reading scary books or watching frightening movies, especially before bed, can be associated with nightmares.

Risk factors

Nightmares are more common when family members have a history of nightmares or other sleep parasomnias, such as talking during sleep.


Nightmare disorder may cause:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, which can lead to difficulties at school or work, or problems with everyday tasks, such as driving and concentrating
  • Problems with mood, such as depression or anxiety from dreams that continue to bother you
  • Resistance to going to bed or to sleep for fear you’ll have another bad dream
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts

How to Avoid Nightmares and Get More Restful Sleep

Teeth falling out? Lost in the wilderness alone? Being chased but can’t scream? Most of us can remember at least one such dream for its vividness, resulting visceral fear and lingering discomfort.

The mind’s reel of horrors never ceases to amaze, and many of these dreams can be off-putting if not downright disturbing. From feeling all too real to playing on our deepest fears, bad dreams can also make it harder to get back to sleep and lead to bedtime anxiety for children as well as adults.

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In the realm of dreams and nightmares, there remains more mystery than fact. It’s an area of neuroscience and psychology that’s hard to study, since each of us experiences a unique dream world that’s inherently subjective and hard to document with reliability.

While a few hypotheses exist, little is confirmed about why we dream, what causes specific dreams, or how it all works. However, there are some interesting theories on nightmares and recent research that offers insight and potential ways to minimize their occurrence and impact. Read on to see what might influence dreams and current opinions on how to cope with the bad ones.

What Is a Nightmare?

Nightmares are defined as dreams that bring out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or anxiety. They feel more vivid or intense than a bad dream, and nightmares are often differentiated from dreams when they cause the sleeper to actually wake up and experience intense feelings upon waking. People who awake during a nightmare are likely to remember the details of it.

While you are snoozing, your brain is pretty busy during certain times of the night. During

Rapid Eye Movement sleep,

brain waves exhibit activity fairly similar to waking, and your brain is consuming as much if not more energy than when you’re awake. Your eyes move rapidly (hence the name), but your muscles are in a state of paralysis. This temporary paralysis is a good thing, because during REM sleep your brain is still firing off commands in the motor cortex as you move around your dream world.

typically occur

during the REM phases of rest, showing up in the later half of your sleep. Little is known about why we dream in general, but popular theories range from managing subconscious thoughts, to sorting out memories and learned information, to purely random chemical signals. There also isn’t much information on exactly why dreams sometimes turn out to be nightmares, but it’s believed that some daytime factors can play an influential role.

Both children and adults experience nightmares and bad dreams, even though they are primarily associated with childhood. It’s estimated that 10-50% of three to six year olds experience nightmares that affect their sleep, with over 80% of seven to nine year olds occasionally experiencing bad dreams.

While children and teens may have more frequent nightmares, adults can and do still have them as well. A
literature review

found that 85% of adults report at least one nightmare the previous year, 8-29% have monthly nightmares, and 2-6% report weekly nightmares. Older adults are 20-50% less likely to have nightmares compared to younger adults.

Behind the Scenes: The Factors That Influence Dream Content

What was your last bad dream about? Despite our unique lives and experiences, if you asked a group of people this question, you’d likely see a few common themes. In fact, research shows we tend to share quite a bit of subject matter in nightmares.

A 2014 University of Montreal study, analyzed 253 nightmares and 431 bad dreams. They found that physical aggression was the most prevalent theme in nightmares, along with death, health and threats. Men’s nightmares were more likely to involve themes of natural disasters and war, while women showed higher frequency of interpersonal conflicts. While fear was a common emotion evoked by nightmares, a significant portion caused sadness, confusion, fear or disgust as well.

Similar themes were found in a previous
German study,

which identified the five most common nightmare themes as falling, being chased, being paralyzed, being late and death of family or friends.

There’s no direct proof or consensus to exactly what causes nightmares or why we have them, but things like our relationships, daytime activities, certain medications and traumatic events all have important links.

Your Experiences

For most people, dreams tend to incorporate
aspects of our waking lives

in both literal and abstract ways. For example, your dreams may include things like studying, test-taking, a problem you’re dealing with, working, family, or a repetitive action you do during the day. Negative things like stress, fear, worry, arguments, and other aspects of our days could also show up in nightmares.

The most common timeframes for dreams to incorporate episodic events and experiences is after
one to two days or five to seven days.

Dreams also commonly involve past
autobiographical experiences,

our personal experiences, and long-term memories of the self. Research shows these memories are typically experienced selectively and in a fragmented fashion

Anxiety and Stress

Stress and anxiety can come in many forms, from temporary everyday things like moving to a new place, changing roles at school or work, or failing at a task, to more major things like divorce, losing a family member, trauma, or anxiety disorders. Being stressed and feeling anxiety is associated with poor sleep in general, and both may also trigger a nightmare.

Anxiety regarding performance is one a common theme you may have recognized in your own dreams. For example, about 15% of German athletes in
one study

reported distressing dreams before a big event, most often involving athletic failure. Many students also experience bad dreams related to impending tests or finals, sometimes even years after they’ve finished school.


The idea that scary, thrilling, or suspenseful shows or even fear-inducing news broadcasts cause bad dreams is often expressed anecdotally. While difficult to study, many of us can recall a time where visual imagery and situations from media popped up in dream content. Scary media can also cause stress and anxiety for some people (setting the stage for distressing dreams).

An older study of college students found that 90% could recall a frightening TV show or other media experience, and half said it had affected their sleep or eating habits in childhood or adolescence. More surprising is that about one-fourth of the students said they still experienced some residual anxiety. Blood, injury, disturbing sounds, and distorted images were the most prevalent types of phobia-inducing stimuli the researchers identified.


Severe depression and a negative self attitude were associated with a higher incidence of nightmares in a recent
recent study.

Depression actually proved to be the strongest predictor in their research, with 28% of sufferers reporting frequent nightmares compared to the sample average of 4%.


One study found adults with personality traits like distrustfulness, alienation, and emotional estrangement were more likely to experience chronic nightmares. Long-time dream researcher Ernest Hartmann proposes that people who have thinner personality boundaries and higher creativity may be more susceptible to nightmares.

Another interesting association is a political ideology. A study of college students found that the conservative participants reported more nightmares and more fearful content than liberals, while the liberals recalled more dreams overall.


Sleep research has documented that temperature and comfort can affect sleep quality, and the environment may have some impact on dream content as well. Temperatures that are too cold or too hot can lead to less restful sleep and more awakenings (meaning more remembered dreams), as can pain.

Make sure your sleeping on a comfortable mattress, to reduce tossing and turning and interruptions to your nightly sleep cycle.

Scent may also play a role. A German study released the scent of rotten eggs or roses into the rooms of sleepers after they entered REM sleep. Upon being awakened, people smelling roses reported more positive dream content while those smelling rotten eggs reported more negative content.

Traumatic Experiences

Recurring or more frequent nightmares have been linked with traumatic experiences, including events like
relationship violence

and surviving natural disasters, and it’s a defining characteristic of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Those with PTSD experience nightmares much more frequently, with research estimating 52% to 96% experience them often, compared to around 3% of the general population. The National Center for PTSD says that nightmares following trauma tend to incorporate similar elements or themes as well as replays of the event.


Certain types of medications, particularly those that influence neurotransmitters may influence nightmare frequency. These include antidepressants and barbiturates that affect REM sleep. If nightmares start after medication changes, bring it up with your physician.

Eating Before Bed

Snacking too close to bed can cause indigestion, and it may also influence your metabolism and dreams. One study linked junk food with nightmares, while another found that a spicy meal close to bed disturbs sleep, as summarized in a Lifehacker article.

Other Influential Factors

  • Sleep Deprivation: Experiencing insomnia and fatigue also increase the chances of frequent nightmares, according to the previously mentioned Finnish study.
  • Sleep Disorders: People with sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep disorders are more likely to experience nightmares.
  • Migraines:
    Migraine headaches

    may be linked with more recurrent dreams and nightmares.

  • Pain:
    One study

    showed 39% of people suffering from burn pain experienced pain in their dreams, which was associated with more nightmares and more intense daytime pain.

Minimizing Nightmares and Brushing Off Bad Dreams

Controlling nightmares remains largely uncharted territory, though there are few different schools of thought when it comes to managing bad dreams. For many people nightmares aren’t really a major nuisance, but if they do wake you up more than you’d like or you have trouble settling down afterwards, here are couple of potential ways to go about preventing them or reducing their severity.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

It’s not always possible to completely prevent bad dreams, but setting the stage for good sleep can help ensure you snooze more soundly and feel better rested.
Sleep hygiene

involves ensuring both your habits and sleep environment are ideal for quality rest.

Your sleep space can have some bearing on your resting state. Ideally, bedrooms should be cool, dark and quiet. Temperatures in the 60s to low 70s are considered best. Remove or turn off light sources like TVs, VCRs, and alarm clocks, and consider light blocking shades if you live in an urban area or sleep past sunrise. Earplugs can be helpful for drowning out bothersome noise.

In terms of habits, keeping a regular bedtime and waketime throughout the week is a key part of supporting your internal clock, as is daily moderate exercise, daily sunlight exposure and a regular evening relaxation routine.

Caffeine and other stimulants can all affect sleep in different ways, and are best avoided the hours before bedtime. Keeping bedtime snacks light and avoiding spicy foods or those that cause indigestion is also recommended.

Talk or Write It Out

Some psychologists believe talking about dreams and getting social support to put them in perspective is key to reducing anxiety following nightmares. This might take the form of talking out dreams with a therapist, discussing them with a partner or in a group setting, or via independent journaling.

If you wake up shaken from a nightmare and can’t get back to sleep right away, it could be helpful to get out of bed and write the dream down, and even change its course.

Image Rehearsal Therapy is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that involves recalling the nightmare and then writing out a new, more positive version and rehearsing this new scenario daily to displace the original nightmare theme. IRT is a well-researched type of therapy, and is a treatment
recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine

for chronic idiopathic nightmares and PTSD-related nightmares.

Deal with Daytime Stressors

Other approaches can focus on routines or working on areas of your life that could be contributing to stress or fear. The
American Psychological Association’s

2013 Stress in America poll found that stress was associated with poorer sleep, and that poorer sleep was also associated with higher stress

When you’ve had a tough day, take a few minutes to de-stress before bed. Try a warm bath or other techniques to see what helps you most.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is another method recommended by AASM for nightmares. It involves gradually tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles all over the body to reduce stress and tension. It can be done in a clinical setting, or at home via a guided audio track.

Avoid watching or reading things comprised of common nightmare fodder close to bed. That scary movie, suspenseful book or unsettling news broadcast could wind up in your midnight playlist.

Better choices for winding down if you are looking for more peaceful sleep are lighthearted shows, coloring/sketching, or neutral reading on subjects like self-improvement or hobbies. Remember, electronics like TVs and tablets steal sleep, so it’s best to turn them off at least 30 minutes before bed.

Get Help If Needed

Sometimes, nightmares can become more than just occasional disruptions, becoming a significant source of sleep anxiety.
Nightmare disorder

is a clinically recognized sleep disorder, classified by frequent and persistent nightmares that regularly disrupt sleep, cause bedtime anxiety and affect daytime behavior. They can also be a symptom of PTSD, which can have a dramatic effect on quality of life.

If you feel like nightmares are making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep often or feel anxiety around falling asleep due to bad dreams, it is worthwhile to discuss it with your doctor and/or a psychologist. They can assess if there are underlying conditions to resolve and prescribe the right treatments and medications when applicable.

Most importantly, don’t feel embarrassed to bring the issue up — nightmares aren’t childish. They can have a significant impact on your waking life, and social support along with healthy lifestyle habits can play an important role in minimizing their impact.

How often do you experience bad dreams? What seems to help you calm down or what encourages more positive dreams for you?

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

About the author

Rosie Osmun regularly contributes to the Amerisleep blog writing about topics including, reducing back pain while sleeping, the best dinners for better sleep, and improving productivity to make the most of your mornings. She finds the science of sleep fascinating and loves researching and writing about beds. Rosie is also passionate about traveling, languages, and history.

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Adult Nightmares: Causes and Treatments

When you wake up terrified from a disturbing nightmare, you might think you’re the only adult who has them. After all, aren’t adults supposed to outgrow nightmares?

While it’s true nightmares are more common among children, one out of every two adults has nightmares on occasion. And between 2% and 8% of the adult population is plagued by nightmares.

Are your nightmares causing you significant distress? Are they interrupting your sleep on a regular basis? If so, it’s important to determine what’s causing your adult nightmares. Then you can make changes to reduce their occurrence.

What Are Nightmares?

Nightmares are vividly realistic, disturbing dreams that rattle you awake from a deep sleep. They often set your heart pounding from fear. Nightmares tend to occur most often during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreaming takes place. Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find you experience nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

The subjects of nightmares vary from person to person. There are, though, some common nightmares that many people experience. For example, a lot of adults have nightmares about not being able to run fast enough to escape danger or about falling from a great height. If you’ve gone through a traumatic event, such as an attack or accident, you may have recurrent nightmares about your experience.

Although nightmares and night terrors both cause people to awake in great fear, they are different. Night terrors typically occur in the first few hours after falling asleep. They are experienced as feelings, not dreams, so people do not recall why they are terrified upon awakening.

What Causes Nightmares in Adults?

Nightmares in adults are often spontaneous. But they can also be caused by a variety of factors and underlying disorders.

Some people have nightmares after having a late-night snack, which can increase metabolism and signal the brain to be more active. A number of medications also are known to contribute to nightmare frequency. Drugs that act on chemicals in the brain, such as antidepressants and narcotics, are often associated with nightmares. Non-psychological medications, including some blood pressure medications, can also cause nightmares in adults.


Withdrawal from medications and substances, including alcohol and tranquilizers, may trigger nightmares. If you notice a difference in your nightmare frequency after a change in medication, talk with your doctor.

Sleep deprivation may contribute to adult nightmares, which themselves often cause people to lose additional sleep. Though it’s possible, it has not been confirmed whether this cycle could lead to nightmare disorder.

There can be a number of psychological triggers that cause nightmares in adults. For example, anxiety and depression can cause adult nightmares. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly causes people to experience chronic, recurrent nightmares.

Nightmares in adults can be caused by certain sleep disorders. These include sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. If no other cause can be determined, chronic nightmares may be a distinct sleep disorder. People who have relatives with nightmare disorder may be more likely to have the condition themselves.

What Are the Health Effects of Nightmares in Adults?

Nightmares become much more than bad dreams when they have a significant effect on your health and well-being. Among people who experience nightmares, those who are anxious or depressed are more likely to be distressed about the experience and suffer even more psychological ill effects. Although the relationship is not understood, nightmares have been associated with suicide. Because nightmares may have a significant impact on your quality of life, it’s important to consult a medical professional if you experience them regularly.

Sleep deprivation, which can be caused by nightmares, can cause a host of medical conditions, including heart disease, depression, and obesity.

If nightmares in adults are a symptom of untreated sleep apnea or post-traumatic stress disorder, the underlying disorders can also have significant negative effects on physical and mental health.

Treatments for Nightmares in Adults

Fortunately, there are steps you and your doctor can take to lessen the frequency of your nightmares and the effect they are having on your life. First, if your nightmares are the result of a particular medication, you may be able to change your dosage or prescription to eliminate this unwanted side effect.


For people whose nightmares are caused by conditions such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, treating the underlying disorder may help alleviate symptoms.

If your nightmares aren’t illness- or medication-related, don’t despair. Behavioral changes have proven effective for 70% of adults who suffer from nightmares, including those caused by anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Imagery rehearsal treatment is a promising cognitive behavioral therapy for recurrent nightmares and nightmares caused by PTSD. The technique helps chronic sufferers change their nightmares by rehearsing how they would like them to transpire. In some cases, medications may be used in conjunction with therapy to treat PTSD-related nightmares, though their efficacy has not been demonstrated as clearly as that of imagery rehearsal treatment.

There are a number of other steps you can take on your own that may help reduce your nightmare frequency. Keeping a regular wake-sleep schedule is important. So is engaging in regular exercise, which will help alleviate nightmare-causing anxiety and stress. You may find that yoga and meditation are also helpful.

Remember to practice good sleep hygiene, which will help prevent the sleep deprivation that can bring on nightmares in adults. Make your bedroom a relaxing, tranquil place that is reserved for sleep and sex, so that you don’t associate it with stressful activities. Also, be cautious about the use of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, which can remain in your system for more than 12 hours and often disrupt sleep patterns.

The 10 Most Common Nightmares And What They Mean

Have you ever been chased, had your teeth fall out, or found yourself naked in the middle of the high street? It turns out you are not alone. As horrific as they may be, nightmares are an increasingly common phenomenon and occupy many of the 35 billion dreams that occur on the planet within a 24-hour period. As experts have clarified, our nightmares and dreams echo patterns of human behaviour. So they reflect who we are and what’s on our minds. While, the decoding dreams is not so black and white, this is guide to what common nightmares could mean.

Related: The 10 Most Common Dreams & What They Mean

Here’s a text friendly version of the above infographic:

The 10 Most Common Nightmares & What They Mean

Every night during sleep, each of us creates around 5 dream episodes. These dreams can last for between 15 and 40 minutes, so we all spend around two hours dreaming every night.

With 7 billion dreamers on planet Earth, that means we collectively create 35 billion dreams in any 24-hour period.

All of these dreams mirror fundamental patterns of human behaviour.

Some believe these dream patterns reflect who we actually are, what we really need and what we believe.

Teeth falling out

Dreams about your teeth can reflect your anxieties about your appearance and how others perceive you. Such dreams may stem from a fear of rejection, embarrassment or feeling unattractive.

As teeth are used to bite, tear, and chew, dreams about losing your teeth can stem from a sense of powerlessness which means you may be experiencing self-confidence issues.

Being chased

Being chased suggests you are running away from something that is causing you fear or anxiety in waking life.

It indicates that you have a tendency to run away or avoid a particular issue. The chaser can also represent an aspect of yourself e.g. your own feelings of anger, jealousy or fear can manifest itself as the threatening figure.

Unable to find a toilet

Having trouble finding a toilet means you may be finding it difficult to express your needs in a certain situation. It can represent feelings of your personal needs not being met by always putting others first.

You may feel that you are lacking time for personal issues and need more privacy, self-care or self-expression.

Naked in public

Being naked in a dream symbolises not being able to find yourself, uncertainty, or being wrongly accused.

If you are not the naked person in your dream, but you see a nude person and you are sickened by it, it means you are worried about exposing that person.

Unprepared for an exam

Exam dreams can be so real that we actually wake up convinced we just failed an important test. At least 1 in every 5 people will experience an exam dream in their lives.

Exam dreams are a reflection of your lack of confidence and inability to advance to the next stage in life.


A tough time flying in your dreams suggests that someone (or something) is stopping you from moving to the next step in life.

Being afraid to fly proposes that you might be having trouble keeping up with the high goals you set for yourself.  If you were alone and struggling to fly, it implies that you are lacking confidence within yourself.


If you fall anywhere and you are overcome by fear, it signifies insecurity and anxiety about a situation.

Enjoying the feeling of falling suggest that you are not afraid of changes.

Out of control vehicle

Dreams of cars represent our drive in life and the direction we are taking.

At this stage of your life you may feel that you are off track and need to get back on the road to keep going.

Finding an unused room

If you learn of a new room in your dreams, it denotes new outlooks and abilities that you have realised about yourself.

If the room is white it means you are ready to make a new beginning in your life.

Being late

Dreaming that you are late represents your worry and anxiety about taking a different direction in your life, or that you are trying to get things done but you feel that you are running out of time.

Remember, when you are trying to figure out what your common nightmares mean, your unconscious will not spell it out for you; this is a job for your conscious to figure out.

Dream symbols are presented in a metaphoric fashion for you to decode.

How many of these common nightmares have you experienced? Let us know in the comments!


Nightmares: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Dreaming is one of the most complicated and mysterious aspects of sleep. While dreams can include visions of grandeur and bliss, they can also be scary, threatening, or stressful.

When a bad dream causes you to wake up, it’s known as a nightmare. It’s normal to occasionally have a nightmare or bad dream, but for some people, they recur frequently, disrupting sleep and negatively impacting their waking life as well.

Knowing the differences between bad dreams, nightmares, and nightmare disorder is a first step to addressing the causes of nightmares, starting appropriate treatment, and getting better sleep.

What Are Nightmares?

In sleep medicine, nightmares have a more strict definition than in everyday language. This definition helps distinguish nightmares from bad dreams: while both involve disturbing dream content, only a nightmare causes you to wake up from sleep.

Nightmares are vivid dreams that may be threatening, upsetting, bizarre, or otherwise bothersome. They occur more often during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep associated with intense dreaming. Nightmares arise more frequently in the second half of the night when more time is spent in REM sleep.

Upon waking up from a nightmare, it’s normal to be acutely aware of what happened in the dream, and many people find themselves feeling upset or anxious. Physical symptoms like heart rate changes or sweating may be detected after waking up as well.

What Is Nightmare Disorder?

While most people have nightmares from time to time, nightmare disorder occurs when a person has frequent nightmares that interfere with their sleep, mood, and/or daytime functioning. It is a sleep disorder known as a parasomnia. Parasomnias include numerous types of abnormal behaviors during sleep.

People who have occasional nightmares don’t have nightmare disorder. Instead, nightmare disorder involves recurring nightmares that bring about notable distress in their daily life.

Are Nightmares Normal?

It’s normal for both children and adults to have bad dreams and nightmares every now and again. For example, a study found that 47% of college students had at least one nightmare in the past two weeks.

Nightmare disorder, though, is far less common. Research studies estimate that about 2-8% of adults have problems with nightmares.

Frequent nightmares are more common in children than in adults. Nightmares in children are most prevalent between the ages of three and six and tend to occur less often as children get older. In some cases, though, nightmares persist into adolescence and adulthood.

Nightmares affect males and females, although women are generally more likely to report having nightmares, especially during adolescence through middle age.

Why Do We Have Nightmares?

There is no consensus explanation for why we have nightmares. In fact, there is an ongoing debate in sleep medicine and neuroscience about why we dream at all. Many experts believe that dreaming is part of the mind’s methods for processing emotion and consolidating memory. Bad dreams, then, may be a component of the emotional response to fear and trauma, but more research is needed to definitively explain why nightmares occur.

How Are Nightmares Different From Sleep Terrors?

Sleep terrors, sometimes called night terrors, are another type of parasomnia in which a sleeper appears agitated and frightened during sleep. Nightmares and sleep terrors have several distinguishing characteristics:

  • Nightmares happen during REM sleep while sleep terrors happen during non-REM (NREM) sleep.
  • Sleep terrors don’t involve a full awakening; instead, a person remains mostly asleep and difficult to awaken. If awakened, they likely will be disoriented. In contrast, when a person wakes up from a nightmare, they tend to be alert and aware of what was happening in their dream.
  • The following day, a person with nightmares usually has a clear memory of the dream. People with sleep terrors very rarely have any awareness of the episode.
  • Nightmares are more common in the second half of the night while sleep terrors happen more often in the first half.

What Causes Nightmares?

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 disorder.
  • 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. People with PTSD often have frequent, intense nightmares in which they relive traumatic events, worsening symptoms of PTSD, and often contributing to insomnia.
  • 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.

Though not fully understood, a genetic predisposition may exist that makes it more likely for frequent nightmares to run in a family. This association may be driven by genetic risk factors for mental health conditions that are tied to nightmares.

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.

Are Nightmares Connected To Waking Activity?

Nightmares can have a clear connection to things that happen while you’re awake. Nightmares tied to anxiety and stress, especially PTSD, may involve flashbacks or imagery that is directly linked to traumatic events.

However, not all nightmares have an easily identified relationship to waking activity. Nightmares can have bizarre or bewildering content that is difficult to trace to any specific circumstances in a person’s life.

Can Nightmares Affect Sleep?

Nightmares, especially recurrent nightmares, can have a significant impact on a person’s sleep. People with nightmare disorder are more likely to suffer from decreases in both sleep quantity and quality.

Sleep problems can be induced by nightmares in several ways. People who have nighttime disruptions from nightmares may wake up feeling anxious, making it hard to relax their mind and get back to sleep. Fear of nightmares may cause sleep avoidance and less time allocated to sleep.

Unfortunately, these steps can make nightmares worse. Sleep avoidance can cause sleep deprivation, which can provoke a REM sleep rebound with even more intense dreams and nightmares. This often leads to further sleep avoidance, giving rise to a pattern of disturbed sleep that culminates in insomnia.

Nightmares may exacerbate mental health conditions that can worsen sleep, and insufficient sleep can give rise to more pronounced symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety.

Insufficient sleep connected to nightmares and nightmare disorder can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, mood changes, and worsened cognitive function, all of which can have a substantial negative impact on a person’s daytime activities and quality of life.

When Should You See a Doctor About Nightmares?

Because it’s common to have an occasional nightmare, some people may find it hard to know when nightmares are a cause for concern. You should talk to your doctor about nightmares if:

  • Nightmares happen more than once a week
  • Nightmares affect your sleep, mood, and/or daily activity
  • Nightmares begin at the same time that you start a new medication

To help your doctor understand how nightmares are affecting you, you can keep a sleep diary that tracks your total sleep and sleep disruptions, including nightmares.

How Is Nightmare Disorder Treated?

Infrequent nightmares don’t normally need any treatment, but both psychotherapy and medications can help people who have nightmare disorder. By reducing nightmares, treatments can promote better sleep and overall health.

Treatment for nightmares should always be overseen by a health professional who can identify the most appropriate therapy based on a patient’s overall health and the underlying cause of their nightmares.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a category of treatment that works to understand and reorient negative thinking. Talk therapy has broad applications in addressing mental health disorders and sleeping problems like insomnia.

Many types of psychotherapy fall under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), including a specialized form of CBT for insomnia (CBT-I) that may be used to treat nightmares. A central component of CBT is reorienting negative thoughts and feelings and modifying detrimental patterns of behavior.

There are numerous types of talk therapy and CBT that may help reduce nightmares:

  • Image Rehearsal Therapy: This approach involves rewriting a recurring nightmare into a script that is rewritten and then rehearsed when awake in order to change how it unfolds and impacts the sleeper.
  • Lucid Dreaming Therapy: In a lucid dream, a person is actively aware that they are dreaming. Lucid dreaming therapy seizes on this idea to give a person the ability to positively modify the content of a nightmare through their awareness of it in the moment.
  • Exposure and Desensitization Therapies: Because many nightmares are driven by fears, a number of approaches utilize controlled exposure to that fear to reduce the emotional reaction to it. Examples of these techniques to “face your fears” include self-exposure therapy and systematic desensitization.
  • Hypnosis: This approach creates a relaxed, trance-like mental state in which a person can more easily take in positive thoughts to combat stress.
  • Progressive deep muscle relaxation: While not a direct form of talk therapy, progressive deep muscle relaxation is a technique for calming the mind and body. It involves deep breathing and a sequence of tension and release in muscles throughout the body. Relaxation methods like this are a tool developed in talk therapy to counteract stress buildup.

Behavioral recommendations associated with talk therapy frequently involve changes to sleep hygiene. This includes making the bedroom more conducive to sleep as well as cultivating daily routines and habits that facilitate consistent sleep.

Many psychotherapies for nightmares involve a combination of methods. Examples include CBT-I, Sleep Dynamic Therapy and Exposure, Relaxation, and Rescripting Therapy (ERRT). Mental health professionals can tailor talk therapy for nightmares to fit a patient, including, when appropriate, account for a coexisting mental health disorder.


Several types of prescription medications may be used to treat nightmare disorder. Most often, these are medications that affect the nervous system such as anti-anxiety, antidepressant, or antipsychotic drugs. Different medications may be used for people who have nightmares associated with PTSD.

Medications benefit some patients, but they can also come with side effects. For that reason, it is important to talk with a doctor who can describe the potential benefits and downsides of prescription drugs for nightmare disorder.

How Can You Help Stop Nightmares and Get Better Sleep?

If you have nightmares that interfere with your sleep or daily life, the first step is to talk with your doctor. Identifying and addressing an underlying cause can help make nightmares less frequent and less bothersome.

Whether nightmares are common or occasional, you may get relief from improving sleep hygiene. Building better sleep habits is a component of many therapies for nightmare disorder and can pave the way for high-quality sleep on a regular basis.

There are many elements of sleep hygiene, but some of the most important ones, especially in the context of nightmares, include:

  • Following a consistent sleep schedule: Having a set bedtime and sleep schedule helps keep your sleep stable, preventing sleep avoidance and nightmare-inducing REM rebound after sleep deprivation.
  • Utilizing relaxation methods: Finding ways to wind down, even basic deep breathing, can help decrease the stress and worry that give rise to nightmares.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine can stimulate your mind, which makes it harder to relax and fall asleep. Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can induce a REM rebound in the second half of the night that may worsen nightmares. As much as possible, it’s best to avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
  • Reducing screen time before bed: Using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop before bed can amp up your brain activity and make it difficult to fall asleep. If the screen time involves negative or worrying imagery, it may make nightmares more likely. To avoid this, create a bedtime routine with no screen time for an hour or more before going to sleep.
  • Creating a comforting sleep environment: Your bedroom should promote a sense of calm with as few distractions or disruptions as possible. Set a comfortable temperature, block out excess light and sound, and set up your bed and bedding to be supportive and inviting.
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Here’s What Your Nightmares Really Mean

Dreams are classified, according to experts, as “the stories the brain tells during sleep — a collection of clips, images, feelings, and memories that involuntarily occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of slumber.” While that sounds almost idyllic, we know that dreams are not always pleasant. Nightmares are also common for most people and, in some cases, can be recurring.

Fortunately, nightmares are fairly benign for the most part. In fact, some professionals believe they can even serve as a message. Below, we chatted with experts about recurring bad dreams and broke down everything you need to know about them. Read on to find out why they happen, what they might mean and when they could be a sign of something more serious.

Why You’re Having Nightmares (And What They Mean)

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“A nightmare is connected to and trying to help you with an unpleasant situation in your life,” Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst in Apollo Beach, Florida, told HuffPost. “A recurring nightmare would likely be caused by either an ongoing difficult issue that is yet to be resolved … or a recurring behavior pattern that leads to a recurring difficult issue.”

Most dreams aren’t literal, but some themes or symbols may come up that can help you decipher what your nightmare is trying to tell you, Loewenberg said.

“For example, if you keep getting yourself into relationships with toxic people, you are likely to have recurring nightmares about snakes,” she said. “Or if you have a recurring behavior pattern of avoiding confrontations or difficult problems rather than facing them, you are likely to get recurring dreams of being chased.”

Negative self-beliefs, such as “I’m not lovable,” “I’m worthless” or “I’m not good enough,” can also end up manifesting in your dreams, said Anthony Freire, an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing specialist and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York. “And the more we hold on to these negative beliefs about the self, the scarier or more nightmarish the dream becomes,” he said.

Another common cause of nightmares ― especially recurring ones ― is trauma. These “tend to not be symbolic in nature, but rather a replay of the traumatic event. These are typically post-traumatic stress nightmares,” Loewenberg said.

Recurring nightmares can also be caused by health issues or medications, but they’re usually less common.

How To Make Nightmares Stop

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In order to rid yourself of even the worst recurring nightmares, be prepared to identify and address the root causes. “Processing the underlying reason behind the nightmares would likely make them dissipate,” Freire said.

Depending on how intense your nightmares are, you could try one or more of these techniques:

Consider writing in a journal about both your nightmares and your real-life experiences during the day, Tracy Vadakumchery, a practicing pre-licensed mental health counselor and cognitive behavioral specialist at The Feel Good Center in New York, recommended. Doing so may make it easier to connect the dots and locate closure, she said.

Writing 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, Loewenberg suggested. 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,” Loewenberg said. “Then, when you get to the end or the most frightening part of the nightmare, rewrite it.”

“Watching TV or movies before bed will likely just make you dream a different version of your unresolved emotional business by combining it with any vivid scenes from a movie,” Freire said, adding that you should allow yourself “a good hour before bed to not keep your brain hyperactive with screens.”

When To Get Professional Help

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If addressing your recurring nightmares on your own doesn’t work, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

“If the nightmares occur more than two times per week and/or are accompanied by severe distress and impairment in functioning, it is time to check in with a professional,” said Nicole M. Ward, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in trauma. “Impairments in function can include falling asleep at work, avoiding sleep and/or having frequent conflict within their personal or professional relationships.”

You should also think about seeing a therapist, Freire added, “if nightmares are keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, and the accumulation of loss of sleep is causing other symptoms such as: fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, heart arrhythmias, etc.”

So don’t let bad dreams get in the way of good sleep.

Why Do I Have Recurring Nightmares?

When we think of nightmares, we often associate these bad dreams with kids who fear monsters under the bed or things that lurk in the dark. But adults often have nightmares too. And sometimes they are recurring.

A recurring nightmare is defined as an unpleasant dream that is repeated over and over again across a long period of time.

Perhaps you dream about being assaulted once a week. Or maybe your nightmare involves a loved one getting into an accident, and you experience it every time you fall asleep.

Whatever type of recurring nightmare you might have, waking up terrified is an awful feeling. And it can feel even scarier to fall asleep when you know you’re likely to have another nightmare.

Fortunately, understanding your recurring nightmares could be the first step in addressing them.

Potential Causes

While dreams have long fascinated people, little is still known about why we dream. And there’s little consensus about whether dreams have deeper meanings.

Even less is known about nightmares. While some researchers think nightmares may stem from chemical imbalances in the brain, others believe they stem from deep-rooted issues or traumatic experiences. And still, some believe nightmares are simply a sign of vivid imagination.

So why would someone have a recurring nightmare? There are a few potential reasons.

Unmet Psychological Needs

Some researchers believe that recurrent nightmares stem from unmet psychological needs, such as autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These unmet needs can lead to recurring dreams, and in some cases recurring nightmares as an effort at processing and integrating these experiences.

Substances and Medications

Medication, drugs, and alcohol may interfere with brain chemicals and increase the likelihood of nightmares. Studies have found that sedatives, beta-blockers, and amphetamines are especially likely to cause nightmares. In some cases, withdrawing from substances can also lead to recurring nightmares.


Nightmares are one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. They often involve re-experiencing the same trauma that was endured in real life (although they may also seem unrelated to a specific real-life trauma as well).

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that is characterized by self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships. About 49% of individuals with borderline personality disorder report nightmares.

Nightmare Disorder

Some individuals with recurring nightmares may qualify for a diagnosis of “nightmare disorder.” Nightmare disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by:

  • Recurrent episodes of well-remembered dreams that typically involve efforts to avoid threats to survival or physical integrity
  • Rapid alertness upon waking from the nightmare
  • Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning

In order to meet the criteria for a diagnosis, the symptoms cannot be explained by a mood-altering substance.

Common Nightmare Themes

While nightmares can be about anything, researchers have found that there are some common themes to nightmares.

A 2018 study examined common nightmares in children. The researchers discovered that children’s nightmares often involved being chased, physical aggression, or the death or injury of a loved one.

A 2014 study published in SLEEP found that adult nightmares are often similar. After analyzing more than 10,000 dreams, researchers found most nightmares involved physical aggression of some kind. Health issues, death, and threats were also common.

The researchers noted that fear is not always part of nightmares. Sadness, confusion, guilt, and disgust were often present. 

The Toll Recurring Nightmares Can Have on You

Someone who has never had recurring nightmares might think, “It’s just a bad dream. So what?” But anyone who has experienced recurring nightmares knows that they can take a serious toll on your emotional, physical, occupational, and social well-being.

Nightmares may interfere with your romantic relationships. It can be difficult to share a bed with someone if you know you might wake up in a cold sweat screaming.

You might also be tired at work because you woke up several times the night before from nightmares. Consequently, your productivity could be affected.

You may have more difficulty managing your emotions or even your appetite when you’re sleep deprived as well.

These are just a few difficulties you might experience as a result of recurrent nightmares. Here’s what the research says about recurring nightmares and the toll they can take:

  • Link to suicide. A 2014 study found a link between recurring nightmares and suicide in war veterans. A 2017 study found that recurring nightmares are associated with non-suicidal self-injury among college students.
  • Sleep deprivation. What distinguishes nightmares from bad dreams is the fact that nightmares tend to wake people up. They also tend to make it hard to fall back asleep which can lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a variety of physical health problems and emotional consequences, ranging from an increased risk of depression to obesity.
  • Low mood. Nightmares have also been associated with depression, anxiety, and other mood disturbances. 


If you’re experiencing recurring nightmares, talk to your physician. Your doctor may want to conduct a complete physical to rule out any potential medical reasons for the nightmares. Your physician may also recommend referral to a therapist who can assist in improving your sleep, address any underlying mental health issues, and reduce your nightmares.

The treatment for recurring nightmares depends on the cause. Sometimes, a few lifestyle changes can reduce them.

At other times, medication changes may be necessary. A physician might be able to prescribe a medication that can decrease nightmares or change one that is contributing to them.

Therapy can also be helpful. Therapists often use exposure therapy to treat PTSD, and this could decrease recurring nightmares.

Therapists may also use exposure therapy to address nightmares directly. This might involve talking about the nightmares and finding healthy ways to cope with the distress caused by them.

Different types of psychotherapy may be effective in reducing recurring nightmares as well, even when the cause of the nightmares isn’t known. Therapists might ask individuals to write down their dreams, associate to different aspects of them, or they may ask them to look for alternative endings to their nightmares.

A Word From Verywell

If you’re struggling with a recurring nightmare, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talking to your physician or a therapist could be key to helping you get better rest. A few simple changes in your life or working through a specific issue might help you overcome a nightmare once and for all.

90,000 Scientists told why they have nightmares – Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Why do they have nightmares? What biological function do they perform? Swiss and American scientists in the course of the study found the answer to this question: it is a kind of training of the nervous system that helps a person to cope with negative emotions in everyday life.

In an article published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, scientists from the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and their colleagues from the University of Wisconsin (USA) write that “the emotions experienced during sleep help to resolve emotional stress and prepare for future affective reactions.”

In the experiment of Virginia Sterpenich, the head of the study, 18 people participated. Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), scientists studied the activity of various parts of the brain during sleep. In addition, the volunteers were woken up several times during the night and asked what dreams they had and whether they were scary.

Through the participants’ responses and analysis of brain activity, the researchers identified two areas of the brain that are responsible for the occurrence of nightmares during sleep. “This is the insula and cingulate cortex,” says Lampros Perogamvros, co-author of the work.

Fun fact: both of these areas of the brain are also activated in situations where a person is anxious or frightened in real life. Thus, the insular lobe is responsible for assessing emotions and is triggered automatically as soon as a person feels anxiety. The cingulate cortex, in turn, prepares for an adequate response in a situation of a threat. It controls how a person behaves in the face of danger. “For the first time, we show that similar areas are activated when fear occurs during sleep and while awake,” says Perogamvros.

But what is the relationship between fear in sleep and emotions upon awakening? To answer this question, the researchers conducted a second experiment. They asked 89 volunteers to keep a dream diary for a week. Every morning, immediately after waking up, participants in the experiment wrote whether they could remember the dream, and, if so, what emotions they experienced after it. At the end of the test week, each participant was examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The scientists then showed subjects both neutral and disturbing images such as robbery.The result, according to the researchers, was striking: those who had nightmares longer and more often reacted less emotionally to these negative images. “They had less activated insula, cingulate cortex and amygdala when viewing negative images,” Sterpenich said.

In addition, it turned out that the prefrontal cortex was more active, and this is the area of ​​the brain that can suppress the activity of the amygdala in anxiety situations and, thus, ensure that we are not paralyzed by fear and can act, “- said Sterpenich …

According to the researchers, the results indicate that there is a strong connection between fear in dreams and in reality. At the same time, the emotions that arise during sleep serve as a kind of training: they help us in reality to better respond in dangerous situations. “Dreams can be the preparation of our future reactions to real threats and dangers,” says Perogamvros.

Scientists hope that the findings will form the basis for new approaches in the treatment of anxiety disorders.However, in their opinion, “the healing power of nightmares may have a limit” when it comes to the worst nightmares. “We believe that if a dream has a too high level of anxiety and a person experiences excessive fear, such a dream loses its function of an emotional regulator,” concludes Perogamvros.

Scary dreams

Nightmares that adults dream at night can indicate both mental problems and developing serious illnesses, or simply poor sleep hygiene.

Everyone has encountered nightmares in their lives. “As a rule, a nightmare is the processing of negative information. This is how our body tries to cope with anger, resentment, irritability, anxiety,” explains Olesya Krendeleva, a psychotherapist at the XXI Century medical center.

The main reasons for the occurrence of nightmares are stress, frequent conflicts at work and at home, violation of the day-night regime, neuroses and depression, age-related hormonal disorders, various somatic diseases, overeating or, conversely, exhausting diets.

In addition, the psychotherapist stresses, a recurring nightmare often indicates chronic diseases in the body that require attention: gastritis, migraines, neuralgia, pain in the heart. “Restless sleep tells us that one or several body systems do not stabilize by the evening,” says Irina Kolmykova, a physician at DOC +. “Or that pathological phenomena appear in one of the systems.” In this case, you need to contact a neurologist: he will determine the treatment plan and, if necessary, refer you to specialized specialists – an endocrinologist, somnologist or psychotherapist.

“Fearful dreams are an important signal, and you need to understand it,” says Elena Nikitina, psychotherapist of the “CM-Clinic” does not know how to build an emotionally close relationship. Perhaps then he will have a dream that someone is banging on the door or chasing him. ”

Or, she gives another example, a person wants to become a leader, but does not dare. In this case, he will dream that he is being strangled, the body is devoid of strength, the language does not obey: he cannot shout or speak.”If a person wakes up at the peak of a nightmare and does not immediately understand that this is a dream, the dream is associated with some events from his life,” Elena Nikitina clarifies.

Nightmare Relief

You can start working with bad dreams yourself. “You don’t need to eat one and a half to two hours before bedtime,” says Vladislav Ustinov, a physician at the St. Petersburg State Polyclinic # 3. “Otherwise, food is processed in the stomach, the nervous system gets excited and the brain works.” For the same reason, it is recommended to refrain from using nicotine 2 hours before falling asleep.

Normal physical activity also counteracts nightmares: doctors recommend spending 40 minutes a day on walking: with regular exercise, good musculoskeletal tone reduces the likelihood of nightmares.

Before you go to the psychologist, it is worth checking the bedroom: here, too, the reasons for nightmares can be lurking. According to psychologist Yevgeny Idzikovsky, an uncomfortable bed, poor ventilation, light, sound in the bedroom are 50% of all the reasons why people see horror in their dreams.”The bed should have a comfortable, hard mattress and promote the correct position of the spine during sleep,” recalls Vladislav Ustinov. “With him, only the back of the head should be on the pillow, and the shoulder should be on the bed.”

The prevention of nightmares can be a refusal to use the phone, computer and TV 2 hours before bedtime. Doctors explain that the flickering that gadgets emit send unambiguous impulses to the brain, irritating the psyche.

“To sleep without nightmares, do not provoke the subconscious with disturbing films and exciting conversations: it will revive dormant problems,” adds Elena Nikitina.Psychotherapist Dmitry Lomot recalls how important it is to maintain sleep hygiene: get up and wake up at the same time, ventilate the room before going to bed, and prepare for the night: relax, listen to music, read.

“Sleep is a manifestation of a person’s higher nervous activity,” recalls Dmitry Lomot. “What is in the subconscious is accumulated fears and experiences. The simplest way out is to learn how to manage your emotions during the day. The main thing is to remember that to be nervous is it’s not bad, it’s bad to restrain your nerves and throw feelings into the subconscious: you need to give free rein to emotions. “

If sleep hygiene is observed, Irina Kolmykova specifies, stable positive changes occur within a few weeks.

Factors “provoking nightmares

> A serious problem, a quick solution to which is not guaranteed.
> Lack of regular physical activity.
> Improper diet.
> Insufficient drinking water.
> Lack of a daily activity that is both enjoyable and inspiring.
> Inability to relax, presence of tension in the neck / shoulders / back.
> Presence of habitual regular pain
> Drinking alcohol before bed, using a computer.
> Lack of sleep, late bedtime.
> Obsessive thoughts about a painful topic.
> Inability to independently regulate psychological and emotional stress.
Source: Lyubov Bogdanova, psychologist at the International Center for the Study and Practice of Conscious Breathing.

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90,000 Eight nightmares in adults and children: what do they mean?

Sometimes terrible dreams are so vivid that even after waking up, it is difficult to distinguish them from reality. However, even the most heartbreaking nightmares are just biochemical processes in the human brain.Thinking about it immediately becomes easier. Where do they come from? It is believed that this is how our psyche digests unpleasant emotions and impressions, unresolved internal conflicts. Thanks to nightmares at night, we get rid of the unnecessary nervousness and stress received during the day.

If the plot of nightmares repeats over and over again, it means that the subconscious is trying to talk to you, but it is not always easy to understand it. We have compiled a top of the most popular nightmares. Psychologists interpret them in different ways, but their interpretation is basically similar.

Nightmare No. 1

Natural disaster, calamity, apocalypse

If you dream about catastrophes that night, then this can only mean one thing – in daytime life you worry a lot and doubt that you can not cope on your own with problems. The more anxiety rises, the more actively your brain tries to release the tension, showing you the next end of the world at night.

Nightmare № 2

The dead

Often dreams involving the dead are dreamed of by people who actually experience the death of a loved one.In this case, no unnecessary questions arise. But if in real life nothing like this happens, then such dreams indicate your fear of something unknown or your concern about your health. They can also talk about the inability to accept reality and come to terms with the distance of a loved one.

Nightmare No. 3

Being late

In day life you are a punctual person, and in your sleep you are constantly late. This is a signal from the subconscious: perhaps you have piled too much on yourself.Life is too eventful and hectic. You are worried that you will not be able to meet the expectations of others, will not have time to do the work, finish the project, and learn the information on time.

Nightmare # 4

Seeing yourself naked

This nightmare is most common in people who suffer from low self-esteem. A dream in which you are naked among the crowd suggests that you are afraid of being discussed by other people. Perhaps you are not ready to let a particular person into your life and distrust torments you.

Nightmare # 5

Being abandoned in a dream

Nightmares that your spouse or partner has abandoned you are directly related to your personal life. Such a dream may be the result of the fact that in real life you are afraid that your partner will break up with you and that you will be left alone. This nightmare can also be triggered by feelings of insecurity about the relationship and whether you are good enough for your partner.

Nightmare No. 6


Nightmares in which a person sees himself falling, speak of anxiety in his personal life and that he is not capable of self-control.This anxiety is most often associated with a lack of money, relationship problems, inability to pursue a career, or poor attitudes from others. If you fall to your death, it speaks of the fear of inevitability. Such nightmares are often seen by influential people who feel that they are unable to control a particular part of their lives.

Nightmare # 7

Run away from someone or be attacked

These dreams most often mean that a person is afraid of confrontation with superiors, colleagues or relatives or difficult romantic relationships.Running from a chase in a dream means that you cannot find the strength to cope with adversity or that you strive to avoid problems, but you feel that you will not succeed.

Nightmare No. 8

Seeing yourself sick, wounded, dying

Despite the sad plot, such a dream can be a harbinger of positive changes. Death in a dream can mean the end of one period in life and the beginning of another. The nightmare about your own death or illness suggests that the process of internal restructuring has already begun.

The relationship between dreams and daytime life is obvious, but today’s events are not always the cause of insomnia and nightmares. Dr. Richard Ferber, a renowned child sleep expert, believes that some of the problems that hinder you in adulthood may have roots in childhood.

Like all other dreams, nightmares occur during REM sleep. Presumably, even newborns see some rudimentary dreams, since they spend a lot of time in a state of REM sleep.However, it is not known whether they have full-fledged dreams with complex imagery, sounds, feelings and thoughts. The nightmare of a one year old is simple: it usually recreates and relives a recent frightening event.

Dreams become more difficult with age. In parallel, the child’s ability to separate them from reality is growing. At the age of five, waking up from a dream, he at the same moment clearly realizes that he was just a dream. After a nightmare, this understanding is more difficult.

Although nightmares happen in dreams, for the most part they are a consequence and reflection of emotional conflicts in active life.

With the onset of puberty and throughout adolescence, new conflicts and anxieties constantly arise. The process of physical, sexual, emotional and mental maturation is accompanied by stress. During these years, nightmares become almost the norm.

In his book The Sleep of a Child, Richard Ferber lists all the possible causes of sleep disturbance. He believes that you need to look for a problem with sleep in stages and very carefully, since it is not always on the surface. But if you teach a child to cope with nightmares and insomnia as a child, then the habit of sleeping well will relieve many psychological problems in the future.After all, while your negative emotions prevent you from getting enough sleep, you have less and less strength to resist real problems.

In his book

What do nightmares mean ?, mport.ua bigmir) net

Nightmares speak of our anxiety, dissatisfaction.

Psychoanalysts say: if nightmares are regular, you are probably worried about some unresolved psychological problem, perhaps even at the subconscious level.

1. Inability to run quickly, stiffness of movement, paralysis, inability to scream, speak.

Read also: Healthy sleep for a man: five simple tips

The simplest explanation for such dreams is that in real life a person cannot go forward, feeling nailed to one point when some an aspect of his real life is paralyzed. Such dreams may reflect your inability to choose one of several options and find a way out of a difficult situation.

2. Fall from a great height

According to a study by German scientists, the leader among nightmares is falling into the void or abyss. A fall usually indicates an increased level of anxiety, lack of confidence in one’s abilities.

3. Pursuit, pursuit, they want to attack you, want to break into your house

Characters who chase you in a dream embody those aspects of your personality that you fear and which you despise in yourself.

If in a dream someone is following you, then you need to understand who or what it was, and how it relates to your real life.

Source: freerepublic.com

4. Fear of failure in some life situation: being late for a train, for a meeting, for work, not having time to do some important business

Read also : Sweet dream: nine gadgets to make you fall in love with your bed

These stories usually arise when a person is constantly worried about something in real life, he cannot decide on some action, is not sure of himself …Often in this case, there are recurring dreams. This is a signal that you need to understand yourself, “close” some unresolved problems.

5. Misfortune with a loved one, sometimes even his death

Very often, such dreams are dreamed when you feel guilty about this person. Try to make amends to him. If you dreamed that a loved one died, out of numerous interpretations, we advise you to adhere to the fact that he will live a long time.

6. Personal death or loss of body integrity – loss of organs, teeth, hair …

Dreams in which the body is destroyed, despite the fear caused by them, can have a positive meaning. They say that it is time for you to change something in yourself, symbolically bury the old or even yourself – in order to be born again.

A plot with tooth loss may mean that you have difficulty communicating with someone.

Read also: 6 ways to improve sleep without pills

The dream of your death can often continue when you watch it from the outside.In any case, such a dream should not bode well for anything. As in the case of organ loss, your death can mean rebirth, rebirth, changes in life.

Source: depositphotos.com

7. Dreams with violent plots: bloody scenes, natural disasters, corpses

If you dream of various disasters, hospitals, disabled people, predators, bloody scenes – this can be a signal disease. We all know our weak points, therefore, having seen such a dream, you need to take care of your health.

8. Dreams with vampires, zombies, mutants , aliens and other evil spirits

Often such dreams can visit you if you lead a wrong lifestyle or watch horror films before falling asleep.

9. You find yourself in an awkward position and cannot change anything

Read also: A dream for a million: the five most expensive beds

In this case, the most popular story when you find yourself naked in the presence a large number of people.Nightmares about how a person is naked in a crowd can dream of someone who is overly confident in himself, loses self-criticism and risks being in a difficult situation because of this.

10. Dialogue with the unconscious, unknown

Such a plot is just typical for night fears, when you feel some influence on yourself of an unknown force. Even if the images seem threatening and dangerous, the dream as a whole carries an important message from the unconscious, and you must hear it and benefit from it.

Source: youtube.com

Decipher the nightmare and use it for your own benefit

Also know that nightmares contain information about yourself that you do not notice in life or deliberately ignore. If you correctly establish the meaning of the nightmare, then you can understand what you need to do.

Read also: Male Sleep: Getting Better with Age

“Nightmares are warning signs,” says University of Dallas psychologist Tess Castleman.- Our psyche tells us that something is wrong. However, this does not mean at all that you have “head problems”. In a dream, the subconscious is trying to help you, to guide you, to explain what is the cause of difficulties or troubles in conscious life. ”

If you want to avoid a nightmare – thoughts are positive

To avoid having nightmares, follow these simple tips:

  • Lie down comfortably. Sometimes people have nightmares because they fall asleep in a certain position (for example, on their back).
  • Stay up late at night.
  • Don’t watch violent movies before bed.
  • Drink warm milk or herbal tincture before bed.
  • Use fragrances when falling asleep.
  • An evening walk will also reduce the likelihood of a nightmare.

Read also: Drinking late will ruin your sleep

But the best way to get rid of nightmares is to keep out bad thoughts. Before going to bed, imagine a favorable outcome of those events that bring fears to you, and fall asleep with these positive thoughts.

And under no circumstances watch the following funny movies before going to bed:

90,000 What Nightmares Mean – Poster Daily

These and other important questions about dreams are being answered by a somnologist at the request of Afisha Daily.

Alexander Kalinkin

Somnologist, cardiologist, head of the sleep medicine center of the University Clinic of Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov

– What does the science of dreaming know?

– Most scientists don’t dream. The fact is that science begins when there is an instrument for researching a particular phenomenon. Unfortunately, in the case of dreams, such a tool does not exist. We cannot record dreams on video and have an idea about them only from the words of people. This information is subjective and therefore cannot be used in scientific research. But we know something about dreams.Most likely, they form in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It is not the visual cortex that processes visual information while awake. That is, dreams are an integral process; they reflect our interaction with the environment. Therefore, a person who is blind from birth has auditory dreams.

– Why do we need dreams?

– We receive a lot of information every day. During sleep, the brain processes and analyzes it, as a result of which we see dreams.The more emotionally colored the information, the brighter the visual images. In a dream, two more important processes take place – memory consolidation, that is, the transfer of information from RAM to permanent memory, and the reverse process of reconsolidation. So the brain, firstly, gets rid of unnecessary information, and secondly, forms a model of future behavior based on the experience gained.

– When does a person dream?

– Many people perceive sleep as a kind of passive state: a person lies, does not move, only sometimes turns over.But in fact, sleep is a very active process. It consists of two phases: slow-wave sleep (or delta sleep) and REM sleep, which is also called paradoxical sleep. In the first phase, a person’s pressure decreases, and breathing becomes even. In the second, breathing becomes confused, and the heart rate can accelerate and slow down. At the same time, the brain is almost as active as during wakefulness, and sometimes even more. REM sleep occurs one and a half to two hours after falling asleep and then alternates with slow-wave sleep, gradually preparing us for awakening.For eight hours, on average, four to six such cycles are observed.

Earlier it was believed that a person sees dreams only during active sleep. The discovery of this phase occurred simultaneously with the description of the effect of rapid eye movement during sleep. Dreams have always been combined with mysticism. Here, too, the movement of the eyes was explained by the fact that a person supposedly follows the images that arise during sleep. But it turned out that this phenomenon is associated with periodic motor activity of the eyes and has nothing to do with observing images.Later it was proved that 60% of dreams occur in REM sleep, and the remaining 40 – in slow-wave sleep.

– Why do people even now tend to believe in the mystical nature of dreams?

– It’s simple: we still do not have enough scientific data about dreams. The second point – from a scientific point of view, a person often cannot adequately assess the images that he sees in a dream. As a rule, they are very impressive: aliens, space flight, monsters. But I believe that you cannot see what you have not seen in real life, fairy tales, films, and so on.Visual images, I repeat, are formed from the information we receive. Another point – the integration and transformation of information often leads to the fact that the images become too complex and unreal. As a result, people develop mystical ideas. One of the phenomena that convinces many that something unusual is happening to them is levitation in a dream. Children, less often adults, may feel like they are floating around the room while sleeping.

– Do all people dream?

– Yes, but there is no scientific evidence for this.On the other hand, if people did not dream, this would mean that they do not receive any information at all. Of course, there are those who do not remember their dreams. Sometimes this happens due to the fact that life is not emotionally colored enough, dreams paint routine events that can be confused with the surrounding reality. It also happens vice versa – in several of my patients dreams were so vivid that they felt them as reality and were surprised upon waking up. The only case I know of when people do not dream of anything is due to the fact that after a stroke, some of the structures that are responsible for the manifestation of visual images in a dream are damaged.But again, there is no scientific evidence for this.

– Do animals dream?

– Paradoxical sleep behavior disorder occurs in some people. A person may dream about boxing, and during sleep he begins to perform similar actions. Another example is somnambulism, that is, walking in a dream. On the one hand, this is a unique state. On the other hand, it is a symptom that in the future a person is likely to develop a severe neurodegenerative disease, for example, Parkinson’s disease.This behavior sometimes occurs in animals. There is even a YouTube video of a sleeping dog imitating a run. When she wakes up, she crashes into a wall because her brain does not yet control external visual information. Based on this, we can say with almost 100% probability that animals dream and, like us, process information for further experience.

Topic details

Science of sleep: how to sleep properly

Sleep Science: How to Sleep Properly

– There is a lot of talk now about the importance of sleep for human health.Is there a relationship between dreams and our physical condition?

– Yes, a person’s condition can shape the nature of dreams and influence them. There are about 80 types of sleep disorders known. One of the most common and life-threatening cases is respiratory arrest or apnea. Its clinical manifestation is snoring, usually loud. The dreams of apnea patients are usually accompanied by the fact that they fall into an ice hole, dive deeply and cannot emerge, get stuck in the soil, and so on.That is, those conditions are reproduced when hypoxia occurs in the body, a lack of oxygen. Another example is restless legs syndrome or periodic leg movement syndrome, in which a person experiences spastic contractions of the leg muscles while falling asleep or while sleeping. Then dreams are often associated with motor activity. People who want to use the toilet at night dream about how they are trying to find a toilet room.

– Is there a connection with the mental state?

– People with so-called major mental disorders – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder – have hallucinations.Sometimes it is difficult for them to distinguish them from a dream, in which extremely unusual pictures appear. Another interesting condition – I call it “waking dream penetration” – occurs in some neurological diseases, such as narcolepsy. Before going to sleep, a person, not yet closing his eyes, sees dreams in reality and can describe them in great detail, because his consciousness is active. In fact, this is a manifestation of REM sleep, but with open eyes. The phenomenon is also called hypnagogic hallucinations. There are also hypnopompic ones – when a person wakes up, but continues to see visual images.

– Sometimes people have the feeling that they have already seen what is happening at a particular moment in a dream. How it works?

– This is self-deception. This is due to a malfunction in the brain, in particular, the excitation of the hippocampus – the structure in which the working memory is located. Nothing special here, unless it happens often. Then the feeling of déjà vu may be a manifestation of a mental disorder or illness. Another reason is that a similar situation really happened in the past, and something reminded a person of it.

– Why do some people have sleep paralysis? How dangerous is this?

– In fact, paralysis (or complete muscular atony of skeletal muscles) occurs in all people during paradoxical sleep. This is an absolutely normal phenomenon that occurs as a result of a violation of the coordination of the work of the brain and motor systems. As a rule, we do not feel it because we are sleeping. But some are faced with such a state when waking up or falling asleep – and this is already outside the normal range, although it is periodically observed in healthy people.Sleep paralysis usually lasts no longer than two to three minutes. On the one hand, this is a frightening phenomenon: a person realizes that he is awake, but cannot move and sometimes even raise his eyelids. On the other hand, there is nothing dangerous in it. But if sleep paralysis is accompanied by increased daytime sleepiness and cataplexia (a state of sudden loss of muscle tone with complete preservation of consciousness. – Approx. Ed. ), it is necessary to consult a specialist, as these may be symptoms of narcolepsy.

– What dreams are called obsessive? Why do they appear?

– When a person periodically dreams of the same situation, these are obsessive dreams.It is not at all necessary that they be identical, this is a stereotype. Although in rare cases it happens like this. Usually obsessive dreams reflect a stressful situation (it can be positive, such as falling in love) and the attitude of the person towards it. During sleep, the brain analyzes what worries us and creates an algorithm of actions.

– Is there a connection between what dreams we see – good or bad – and our state?

– There is less connection here.But often positive and pleasant dreams improve mood and indicate that a person is healthy. On the other hand, nightmares make us experience situations that disturb us. Some of them climb into dream books. But if we take a close look at the interpretations of the same images in different books, we will see that they often do not agree and even contradict each other. Symbolism in a dream is not universal, but is associated with the personal characteristics of a particular person. Scary dreams are usually the result of anxiety and acute or chronic stress.They often act as a signal that something is wrong.

– When should you go to the doctor because of nightmares? And to what?

– If it’s not about ordinary stress, after the elimination of which sleep is restored and nightmares disappear, and terrible dreams torment a person for more than a month, you need to contact a specialist. There is no official specialization in somnology, but there are enough somnologists in Moscow and other Russian cities. The only thing is that their level is very different – but so in any area.

Topic details

What will happen if you do not sleep for days: people who practice sleep deprivation tell

What will happen if you do not sleep for days: people who practice sleep deprivation tell

– What is the difference between lucid and guided dreams? And can you learn to control your dreams?

– Lucid dreams are those in which consciousness is not turned off. That is, a person is aware of them.The lucid dreaming phenomenon occurs in almost a third of the world’s population. There is no pathology or anything supernatural here; this, again, is the result of a breakdown in the integration of brain structures. At the same time, there are techniques that allow you to enter such states. There is no sense in this, except to experience an unusual experience. But such practices will not improve their health, on the contrary, some feel worse after them.

And guided dreams – those whose course can be changed consciously – indicate that a person is in good control of himself even during sleep.This can be learned too.

– The quality of sleep depends on external factors: darkness, silence, etc. Do they affect the dream?

– Of course. Any external factors affect dreams: the presence of light, sounds, smells, but especially temperature and humidity. Although the main attribute of sleep is deprivation, that is, isolation from visual, auditory and tactile sensations. But sleep is a biological condition that is characteristic of almost the entire animal kingdom. And from this point of view, he is dangerous.If the animal falls asleep in the forest, a predator can detect it and easily eat it. Therefore, a threshold is needed that would allow you to wake up in case of danger: when there was a noise, a light appeared, and so on. This threshold is one of the characteristics of our sleep.

– Why don’t we still have the ability to record dreams? What’s stopping?

– If I could answer this question, I would have already won the Nobel Prize (laughs) . At this level of development of science, we simply do not have a tool for this.Once we learn to record dreams, we can record thoughts as well. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous path. But the one who records the dreams will turn Hollywood into ruins: the pictures generated by dreams exceed the fantasies of any director. Then, instead of YouTube, we will have DreamTube, where you can watch other people’s dreams. But I am afraid this may lead to adverse consequences.

– Should this be expected in the next 50-100 years?

I don’t exclude it. In one of House’s episodes, there was a moment when a patient’s dream was reproduced on the basis of functional MRI.Of course, there is an exaggeration here. But we know that when a person sees an object, a certain part of his cerebral cortex is excited. Having tracked this, it is possible, using a mathematical algorithm and functional MRI, to present and describe the dream of a specific person. Of course, this will not give a 100% reflection of the images, but in any case, it will be possible to say that he is dreaming of a horse, a forest, and so on.

90,000 Nightmares Dreaming to Help Us

Fear Hit Parade

From the hundreds of stories Toby Nathan has heard from his patients, we have identified three frequently recurring big nightmarish themes.

1. Paralysis . The plane falls on his head, and his feet seem to be glued to the ground. We want to call for help, but we cannot make a sound. We are in danger or we have a presentiment of it, we try to act, but we can not do anything. These scenarios may indicate a certain situation of aggression, which we more or less passively experience in our lives: we are in danger, we must be vigilant.

Scientifically speaking, this disturbing inability to defend itself reflects a physiological reality: when we sleep, motor functions are blocked and the body is indeed constrained.And it’s good that this is so, otherwise we would all turn into a somnambulist.

For the same reason, the blockage of motor function in nightmares, we do not react in any way to the danger that threatens us. Or, in erotic dreams, we almost always take a passive position, obeying the will of another. In our dreams, physiological reality and imagination are confused.

2. Falling into emptiness. In the house where we are, the ceiling collapses, the floor collapses, and we find ourselves in a pitch void.Such bad dreams are associated with the experience of abandonment, real or imagined. They express fear of losing control, letting go of the reins, relaxing.

And also, according to Toby Nathan, such dreams warn that someone has betrayed us or is about to do it. Beware of deception: if we do not pay attention to this, we risk falling from a height … or another person, at first glance, too nice to really be sincere, too polite to be honest.

3. Meeting people wearing masks, grimacing or strangely dressed. Meanwhile, these characters only warn us that some kind of unspokenness is in the air. For example, a person who pretends to be a friend is actually cheating on us.

Or maybe a romantic option: a person from our environment is in love with us, but hesitates to admit it. Here, too, there is no clairvoyance, only our sensitivity, which is exacerbated by the state of sleep.

Why bad dreams and how to get rid of nightmares

Sleep may not always be enjoyable.
Photo: pixabay.com

Many people have bad dreams, but doctors and psychologists say that you can get rid of nightmares.

Nightmares plague millions of people.Is it really impossible to escape from terrible dreams? Fortunately, experts know how to deal with bad dreams.

“You can get the perfect sleep by changing your daily routine and learning how to direct your dreams in the right direction before you go to bed,” says Theresa Chung , author of a number of studies on the psychology of sleep , from the UK.

She advises to go to bed at the same time before midnight. Changes in your daily routine and irregular sleep patterns can confuse your body’s biological clock, which in turn can lead to nightmares.

Tips to help you get rid of nightmares:

  • Eat vegetables. Research shows that people who ate vitamin B6 foods before bed slept better. For example, a serving of spinach can help you sleep well.

  • Stretch. Sleeping flexibility exercises help your body relax and release stress, which means you’ll sleep much better.

  • Take a bath. Even ten minutes in a warm bath can have a positive effect on your dreams. The optimal time for bathing is one to two hours before bed.

  • Look at the moon. According to Teresa Chung, this one of the more unconventional pieces of advice helps you reconnect with your inner world. According to mystical lore, the moon rules dreams, so if you can look at the moon through a window, focus on it and meditate for no more than 10 minutes for a better sleep.