➨➨➨The origins of nightmares
Most of us will remember at least one vivid nightmare we've had - leaving you sweating, heart pounding, breathless.
We were relieved to know that it was just a dream For some people however, even waking up gives no relief. The nightmare was so frightening that it leaves them convinced that it's an omen of something bad. The question remains then - what are nightmares and why do we experience them?
➨➨➨The stuff of nightmares
Basically a nightmare is any kind of dream that is vivid and realistic in a very unpleasant way. Frequently you will be jolted awake from these dreams leaving you in a state of distress. Interestingly medical research articles such as those from the 'National Library of Medicine' USA, also talk about the category of 'bad dreams'. Research seems to indicate that bad dreams are simply a less intense version of a nightmare and people don't tend to be awakened suddenly by them. However, bad dreams can cause ongoing problems like nightmares, if they are experienced on a regular basis.
➨➨➨What do people have nightmares about?
What people dream about during nightmares differs from person to person. However, researchers have found common themes:
Not being able to run fast enough from a perceived danger.
Falling from a great height.
People who have suffered a traumatic event often experience nightmares about their experiences.
There are more personalised subjects that people will dream about that are symbolic to them. I've asked a number of family members, friends and acquaintances to tell me about a nightmare that affected them particularly badly. The reports were very interesting and are listed below, but remember this was a small sample of people compared to official research surveys. The people I spoke to had nightmares about:
dreaming about a stranger, foreigner or shadow that they are afraid of. On occasion these 'dream people' will chase or in some other way threaten them.
In other dreams people had the feeling that someone was chasing them but there was no specific figure to be seen.
Night terrors are not the same as having a nightmare and although they mostly happen to children, adults do report this experience as well. With night terrors people don't dream but wake up with a feeling of fear and anxiety. There are no dream images to recall to explain why the person has awoken feeling so afraid.
➨➨➨What causes nightmares?
The actual cause for the experience of a nightmare is still a mystery. Although what is known is that they are a product of the subconscious.
➨➨➨Other triggers for nightmares.
Although most adult nightmares happen spontaneously, there are a number of factors that could cause them. In some cases, there may be more than one trigger:
➨Eating late at night - having food quite late on in the evening causes the metabolic rate of the body to increase and this causes the brain to be more active as well, leading to the possibility of nightmares.
➨Medications - there are a number of medications that are known to trigger nightmares. The most common ones for having this affect are anti-depressants and some narcotics. However, research has shown that other medications such as those prescribed for high blood pressure can cause nightmares in some adults.
Withdrawal - both medication and alcohol withdrawal can trigger off nightmares. With medications, often tranquilisers are one of the main culprits.
➨Sleep deprivation - although some medical researchers are looking at the possibility of sleep deprivation cycles causing nightmares this has not been proven as yet.
➨Psychological disorders - depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often cause nightmares that are both recurrent and become chronic.
➨Sleep disorders - these can trigger off nightmares especially conditions such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome. However research is also looking into the possibility of recurring nightmares being a distinct sleep disorder in it's own right.
Having irregular hours for sleep or not getting enough sleep is thought to increase the risk of nightmares.
➨Genetic - the tendency to have nightmares can run in families.