Nightmares: are they really bad?

Have you’ve ever been awoken up by something so frightening that you’re drenched with sweat to find out it was all a dream?

Well, my friend, you’ve just experienced a nightmare which happens one out of every two adults – 2% and 8% of the adult population is plagued by nightmares.

You might be thinking– aren’t I too old for such nightmares? Don’t adults outgrow them?

Don’t be ashamed of having nightmares- it’s completely normal, everyone has had them in their lifetime. But before you shrug it off and ignore it, let’s pay attention as to why these terrifying dreams are keeping us awake. Just like it wouldn’t be wise to ignore a medical issue, nightmares shouldn’t be taken lightly too. Because even though they could be just dreams, their could be an underlying cause or it could be a hidden sign.

We’ve all heard of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, it’s the unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds characterized by rapid eye movement of the eyes, accompanied by low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly.

We can all thank our REM sleep because it’s the period of sleep that’s associated with our dreams.

But don’t get confused between a nightmare versus a night terror. The simple differentiator is that night terrors tend to be more intense than nightmares. While night terrors are more common in children, they can be a serious issue in adults as well. When one experiences a night terror they may shout, thrash or even sleepwalk. These can be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, and if they are recurring and caused by anxiety, you should see a doctor.

What are the causes?

There are many causes and variants as to why adults can have nightmares. Some people can have nightmares after a late-night snack which increases metabolism and signal the brain to be active. Medications (antidepressants and narcotics) contribute to a big factor as well because they are chemicals and are associated with our dreams. Not only can taking medications cause nightmares but withdrawal from them can contribute as well.

Sleep deprivation is another concern, even though it’s possible, it still hasn’t been confirmed whether this cycle could lead to nightmare disorder.

From a psychological perspective, anxiety, depression, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are found to be related to nightmares as well.

Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome all contribute as well.

Normally you wouldn’t have to worry about these bad dreams but when they have a significant effect on your health and well-being, it’s important to consult a medical professional. People who experience constant and frequent nightmares, are anxious or depressed, which are more likely to be distressed about the experience and suffer more psychological ill effects and worst case scenario can lead to death.

So… what are the treatments for nightmares or how can we stop them from occurring?

Honestly, dreams and nightmares are all part of our consciousness. We don’t have full control of them. But what we can control is our reality and lifestyle.

For people whose nightmares are caused by sleep disorders, 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. It’s typical that PTSD is one of the causes because a majority of our nightmares occur because of some sort of event(s) that have happened in our past.

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. Engaging in regular exercise will help alleviate nightmare-causing anxiety and stress.

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.

But anyways, don’t worry, nightmares are very common, 90 percent of people still suffer from scary dreams. Even though these dreams are common, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t awful to experience. Most nightmares occur because of sleep deprivation or stress. Try meditation, yoga or whatever you do to relax, reduce your stress and sleep better.

If you think you are suffering from nightmares and they are constantly occurring, you should consult a physician.

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