Nightmares are generally considered to be any dream you have that provokes a strong negative emotion – fear or horror are the most common. They are relatively unknown in young children, but increase in frequency as you get older, and are most common with teenagers. They tend to become much less frequent as an adult.
Most people wake up after a nightmare and have a hard time falling back to sleep – their negative emotions are still running pretty high. If this goes on night after night, it can play real havoc on your sleep – leading to insomnia. This is where they turn from a minor irritant into a major one – playing havoc with your daytime life.
There are some potential triggers to nightmares that you should be aware of (and try to avoid if you can):
- Eating too late at night – it increases your metabolism and gives the brain too much to do.
- Extra or unusual stress or anxiety – again, causing the brain to work overtime.
- Any fever you have can stimulate nightmares.
If you suffer from recurrent nightmares (often with the same theme) the overall recommended strategy is cognative therapy (not to be confused with cognative behavior therapy). The majority of recurring nightmares are the result of some unresolved traumatic event in your life. Talking through that event with a professional therapist is the best way to work to resolution. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a prime example of the potential roots of recurring nightmares.
For the rest of us, with no outstanding issues to resolve and nothing chronic about the nightmares, understand that they just seem to be a part of growing up. It’s uncommon, but not unusual, to experience the odd nightmare as an adult (my wife still does, but I haven’t had one for decades). Infrequent nightmares are completely normal, and require no treatment. Uncomfortable, yes. Dangerous, no.
People often mix up the terms “nightmare” and “night-terror”, but they are not the same thing. Night terrors are considered a parasomnia, and a bit more investigating is in order. The next post will be on Night Terrors…