It has always been the favorite pass time and a source of wonder for people to interpret their dreams. Evident in early civilizations and religious texts, dreams are considered a portal or means of communication with the other world. They are taken as a message or sign of warning from unearthly creatures (both demons and angels). While people experience pleasant indulgences while asleep, nightmares and bad dreams are also common.
Moving on, scientists do interpret the same as “the way our brains make sense of surrounding activities and life experiences” while we are asleep. That is how around 50 to 85% of the adult population has been reporting nightmares and bad dreams. And on the gender ratio, it is women on the upper scale than men.
So if you are trying to make sense of the sleepless nights you get, this write-up is for you to explore.
Difference between nightmares and bad dreams
As analyzed and explained by Sigmund Freud, “subjective experience of a person, external stimuli, reaction/organic stimuli in the body and mental interpretations of the same” causes dreams.
As explained, anything that does affect our subconscious level in a negative aspect tends to emerge as a dream while we are asleep. Depending on the intensity and the trauma caused by each dream session, they get termed nightmares or bad dreams.
Moving forward, bad dreams do make one feel less comfortable while asleep. On the other hand, nightmares are scary and do make people wake up from their sleeping state. Intensity-wise, nightmares do have the upper hand when compared to bad dreams. And people suffering did record nightmares to be more aggressive and negatively conclusive than bad dreams.
Also, after conclusive studies, researchers have come to the point that nightmares are, in a way, posing a threat to the physical security of the person. They are more focused and related to a particular incident affecting a person’s regular sleep pattern. While bad dreams, on the other hand, can be just a phase and no typical psychological reasons underlying.
The various causes of nightmares and bad dreams
As already mentioned, multiple external and internal factors can trigger certain sorts of dreams for a person every night. And traditional beliefs do conclude negative dreams as some sort of bad omen. However, on the other side, there is more to it regarding the psychological and scientific analysis. So let’s move forward, analyzing the various causes of nightmares and bad dreams:
Causes of nightmares
- Anxiety or stress: Human minds of different individuals have their way of interacting. That is how a simple matter can cause a lot of anxiety or stress in one person and not in the other. This includes problem at home, fight with a loved one, or the death of someone dear.
- Lack of sleep: Moving on, there can be various reasons for a person to give up on their sleep. And a sleep-deprived human brain is always prone to overthinking. This can trigger extra stress and anxiety in a person causing the frequency of nightmares to increase.
- Trauma: Incidents of drowning, falling from a height, getting bitten by a dog, or domestic violence cause trauma within an individual. These people are more prone to suicidal thoughts and the rising intensity of depression.
- Effect of certain medicines: At times, medical help can go wrong, and people end up hallucinating or having night dreams as the effect of a medicine. Also, certain unplanned diagnoses like cancer, heart attack, and losing an organ can create a sense of panic. Thus causing a person to spend sleepless nights.
Causes of bad dreams
- Substance abuse: Consuming recreational drugs or alcohol can trigger bad dreams. They sometimes dream about the impossible and negative aspects of the past.
- Signs of bad health: A person suffering from an upset stomach or acute headache sometimes claims to have a bad dream. Also, as per traditional beliefs, bad dreams are a way for the other side to communicate with us, warning us about the upcoming suffering.
- Horror movies or scary books: Horror movies and scary books can trigger bad dreams. You end up reimagining scenes and giving up on sleep.
Most common nightmares and bad dreams
Let’s move into some of the most common nightmares and bad dreams that people experience and search for:
- Being chased: It is like someone is behind you, and you cannot stop. These dreams connect with unfinished business, and you are in pain not to be able to finish the same.
- Catching fire: This type of dream does signify transformations. If you are dreaming about fire, you are about to end up in a situation that will be problematic in the beginning but will have positive effects in the long run.
- Tornadoes: Anxiety and worries together make you dream about tornadoes. The color of the tornado, white, red, or black, does symbolize deep emotions and a sense or lack of control.
- Losing a loved one: This dream is associated with life experiences and accidents. Where people suffering through Post Traumatic Disorder Syndrome experience losing their loved one all over again. As per traditional beliefs, the loved one lost, do try to warn or create a type of communication with the person dreaming.
- Falling from a great height: People who lose control of their life choices suffer from nightmares like this. Also, childhood traumas and accidents make people spend sleepless nights.
- Drowning in water: Drowning in water can signify getting bombarded with too many work commitments and being unable to control them. Taking a step back from the existing responsibilities and just living your life can halt such dreams.
Imagery Rehearsal Therapy for Nightmare Disorder
It might sound quite tough and too technical. However, the imagery rehearsal technique does stand for helping individuals address the why and what part of their nightmares. Psychiatrist Isaac Mark in 1978, came up with the approach where the person spending sleepless nights is made to acknowledge their nightmares. This is done while the person is awake, and the idea behind it is to transform the negative dream into a happy ending. Let’s find out the four major steps in Imagery Rehearsal Therapy.
- Write it down: Write down your dream. Also, you can focus on making some detailed notes and describing each part of the dream. Capture the elements of fear in your dream. If it gets too hectic to sit alone and right, seek assistance from your near ones.
- Rewrite: Now, it’s time to reimagine and change the angle of your dream, giving it a positive nudge. You can also introduce rescuers to your dream as a superhero.
- Bring in the urge to re-dream: It is based on the idea of lucid dreaming. Where you are conscious of your dreaming self. On getting the same dream all over again, try to restructure it this time, adding a positive effect. To get help, you can connect your original dream with your reimagined dream version.
- Rejoice your ability to re-dream: After your first successful attempt, things will get easy. Keep on experimenting with your re-dreaming approaches, and you will be able to get rid of the nightmares eventually.
New treatment for nightmares and bad dreams
Sophie Schwartz, a neuroscientist at Geneva University, along with her colleagues did, come up with a technique known as “targeted memory reactivation.” Here the person of concern does try to learn something new while there is music in the background.
The researchers did train 36 individuals suffering from nightmares proper training in IRT. Then did ask them to rehearse the nightmare in silence. The other half went on with the rehearsing part while there was a piano sound in the background. The TMR cue got played at a stretch of 10 seconds every 5 minutes.
This went on for two weeks, with the participants practicing the IRT daily and maintaining a dream diary. While they are asleep, a headband with sensors did record the electrical activity of the brain at each sleep stage. The piano sound got used as a dream soundtrack. The headband did go off every ten seconds on detection of rapid eye movement. Interestingly, the sound was played for all participants, but only half of them could associate with the sound.
Those who received training in the piano sound were no longer getting nightmares. The numbers went on from three to 0.2 per week. And are even getting happier dreams. On the other hand, the team only practicing IRT did notice an improvement in their dream sequence but were still getting one nightmare per week.
After three months of the experiment, the one trained in the piano chord was experiencing 0.3 nightmares per week. While the other group’s nightmare rose to 1.5 per week.
That is all about you finally being able to get rid of nightmares and bad dreams. While the entire thing might sound easy to look at but there is a lot of pain inbuilt. And combating one’s trauma is not at all easy. But you are a fighter and sure will be able to discard the obstacles attached.