Man laying down and staring at what appears to be the sky, which has creepy orange eye staring at him.

The Psychology Behind Nightmares…

As a young child, I had nightmares almost every single night. I remember being so scared of bedtime that I would often only fall asleep if my mother or other family members would lie beside me.

It’s interesting that I can still remember a few of these dreams. One being the classic nightmare being chased by someone and even though you sprint as fast as you can… its feels like you’re in mud. They always seem to catch up.

This got me thinking recently… why do we have nightmares, and what, if anything, do they serve us with…

Reoccurring Nightmares

In the last few years, I have had this reoccurring nightmare about going in an elevator and it falling—not only downwards but also spiralling in circles.

When the dream is about to occur, because it’s happened so many times before, I can recognize it in my dream. I have the thought, “Oh, here is the elevator dream again,” while being in the dream itself. But, I still step into the elevator and anticipate what’s next… and sure enough, it happens… waking up just before I hit the ground… PS I should note that I don’t like heights or flying, but I do it anyway because I love vacations.

Lucid Dreaming

Studies on lucid dreaming suggest that being to able to recognize and control dreams can help us reduce the distress associated with nightmares. While the “direct link” to nightmare reduction is still being researched, practicing lucid dreaming techniques might help individuals manage their nightmares better.

Boy standing in a forest with light coming from deeper inside the trees. The Psychology behind Nightmares…

Why Do We Get Nightmares?

Nightmares often happen during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep and can be triggered by stress, trauma, sleep disorders, and certain medications.

According to the Nightmares and Psychiatric Symptoms study suggested that persistent nightmares in childhood were associated with later borderline personality disorder symptoms in adolescents. Luckily, I did not develop such disorders, at least from what I can tell.

Nightmares might help the brain to process emotions and experiences, especially ones that are stressful or traumatic.

You would think we would process traumatic experiences in a different manner rather than feed us more stress as we sleep… but who am I to say…

Do Nightmares Serve A Larger Function?

Some theories hint that nightmares might have an evolutionary role in threat simulation, helping individuals rehearse responses to dangerous situations. Basically, running fast…

However, when nightmares become frequent and stressful, they can disrupt sleep and negatively impact overall mental health.

How to avoid nightmares

To reduce the chances of nightmares, it’s recommended to maintain good sleep hygiene, manage stress through relaxation techniques, and avoid substances like caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.

If you are suffering from constant nightmares, professional treatments such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Imagery Rehearsal Therapy can be effective.

Final Thoughts

Although what happens during sleep is good at a molecular, thermoregulatory, and neural level, we can summarize it by saying that sleep is good. The brain undergoes processes to help us synthesize what happened in the day’s events.

From a psychological perspective, we just don’t know enough to answer some of our questions. With time and as technology evolves, hopefully, more interesting studies will come to fruition.

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