Why do we have bad dreams?

In the last post we talked about how dreams exist and why we have them

This time around I will be writing about the dark side of dreaming… nightmares

So, you might be wondering: why do we have bad dreams?

As we discussed last time dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) this is when your brain is processing lots of information, this also includes your emotions. So, when you having deep feelings of terror, distress or anxiety then your most likely going to have a nightmare and you are going to dream about those feelings.

Saying this there are different grades of nightmares, some are awful and you would wake up in a horrible sweat and others where the dreams don’t leave you particularly well when you wake up in the morning

What we know about nightmares is that they happen in the later part of the night, they most often wake the person up because they are so distressed and they are not as common as most may think.

Considering the fact that we are dreaming every single night, only 5% of adults are having nightmares where it’s so severe and frequent that it causes a clinical issue to arise and require help. But 85% of people experience nightmares and about a third of less experience it about once a month which is not too bad.

But around 2-6% of people experience a nightmare every single week, which is pretty bad if your one of those people

Psychological Reasons

But what actually causes a bad dream though? Well most nightmares are stress related, they’re anxiety related, work related. Intense dreams like these usually occur after trauma, after something bad has happened to you.

People might dream about real situations that may have occurred in real life, like car crashes or a death of someone close to them. Those are pretty normal nightmares.

However, you can also get nightmares from illnesses. They tend to occur when your body temperature is higher than it should be and so a fever can cause nightmares.

During REM sleep the temperature control systems aren’t working correctly and they’re not at 100% so if your body temperature gets too high. Then your body will react weirdly and for some reason will cause vivid nightmares

This seems like a silly malfunction happening within our brain to do that to us, but it might be trying to tell you something, possibly trying to wake up so that we are alert. It could also be that it is forcing us to face our fears

Psychologists believe that nightmares are a way for us to confront those traumas, to actually process our fear and be able to get over it in a way that it is really only happening in our heads and there are no real consequences in that dream state, and it will help you process it in real life.

For example, if your afraid of car crashes you obviously don’t want to get into another car crash but your brain will run you through that with a nightmare/dream so that you can actually process it in your head.

Psychologists actually use this technique in clinical therapies, and its called exposure therapy. For example, if you’re afraid of spiders they will give you a fake spider and then help you get comfortable with it until you eventually get comfortable with a real spider around you.

This is a way to process your emotions and process your anxiety and being able to move past it

In 60% of cases where nightmares are occurring regularly it is has been shown that these manifested as a result of a major life event, for example a major car crash or a death in the family

Other Possible Causes

It should also be noted that specific types of food before bed may also induce a nightmare as well. For example, eating beef before bed. As it is difficult for the body to digest your body temperature will increase to around 100 degrees and it will get really hot in there. so bad dreams are possible, depending on what you eat as well

Ok, so according to scientific literature nightmares can be caused by:

  • An adverse reaction due to a drug
  • Side effect of a drug
  • Withdrawals from a drug
  • If you take a lot of prescribed sleeping pills and then stop you may have a vivid nightmare
  • It could occur from excessive alcohol consumption
  • Withdrawal from alcohol consumption
  • You can also get nightmares from sleep apnea (breathing disorder while sleeping)
  • Narcolepsy

Sleep Terrors

Sleep terror disorder is a completely different thing to nightmares and are much worse than nightmares, psychologists actually don’t know much about these or why they happen, but they do know it usually occurs in children and it’s much more intense than a regular nightmare

There are also recurring nightmares, these are usually a series of nightmares with the same theme. For example, if you have a recurring anxiety about work your brain is going to deal with that emotionally while you sleep.

Common “Nightmares” / Dreams

There are some dreams that happen to all people like teeth falling out which is a struggle with our own mortality, falling in your dream which is about losing control, public nudity which is linked to vulnerability.

There are all sorts of dreams that we all experience.

According to American anthropologist shared dreams like the above “mark a public domain they intimate a common bond between us” this tells us we all have the same fears and anxieties and that we are all going through the same things and that is why nightmare exist.

We probably have fewer nightmares now that we are no longer kids, as kids have a lot more anxieties and emotions to deal with than adults as they are constantly learning. So hopefully you have less

What’s the worse nightmare have you had? Do you even remember your nightmare? Comment below

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