You might remember the song “These Dreams” by the band Heart. They sing, “These dreams go on when I close my eyes. Every second of the night I live another life.” Maybe I am just showing my age? Dreams are supposed to be comforting and wonderful, aren’t they? But sometimes they aren’t rainbows and unicorns. Instead of seeing positive images while we sleep, at times we see things that scare us. When this happens, we call this type of dream a nightmare. I looked up the definition of nightmare and found that it is derived from the Middle English word “mare” and refers to a being that sits atop people’s chests while they sleep. As most dreams occur in the evening, the word “night” was added to the beginning of it, creating the word “nightmare”. What else do we know about these disturbing dreams?
To begin, what causes nightmares? There are a variety of reasons that can cause an adult to have one. Sleep deprivation, medications, and increased metabolism (brought on by late-night eating) are only a few of the causes. Other causes could be traumatic events as it is not uncommon for people to continually “relive” their traumatic experiences at night when they are sleeping. These events can include things such as traffic accidents, physical attacks, and others. Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, anxiety, and depression are also culprits behind bad dreams. Even sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other sleep-related disorders can induce nightmares.
Next, what are the ramifications that nightmares have on us? In extreme cases, people might suffer from nightmares to a point where, because of this, they commit suicide. Other people might end up sleep deprived if they do not want to drift off as they worry that a nightmare might occur. Most often, however, people do not suffer ill-effects from having an occasional bad dream.
Is there anything we can do to prevent or treat nightmares? As nightmares are often the symptom of other problems, identifying the cause of the nightmare is often the first step in stopping them from occurring regularly. Make sure to keep a log about your nightmares including the frequency, when during the night they are occurring, your health at the time of the occurrence, and any other information about this bad dream. You may need this information should you opt to seek out medical assistance. Once you determine what is causing the nightmares, you might be able to prevent any further instances. For example, if a medication is the cause, switching to another medication might be the best option (under the supervision of your physician, of course). If the cause is stress-related, it might be advisable to seek out the assistance of a professional who specializes in mental health.
Do you know what I do to avoid nightmares? I curl up in my comfy bed, with my perfect pillow under my head and my soft sheets laying on top of me. I do a few breathing exercises to relax and calm me down. Then I close my eyes and hope for the best. I still have nightmares on occasion. When I do, however, I remind myself that it was only a dream - and dreams I can wake up from.