Woke up in hor­ror in the mid­dle of the night, your heart jumps out of your chest, and your body is cov­ered with cold sweat? Every­thing is clear: these are night­mares! They are well known from 2 to 8% of peo­ple. And it seems you are at risk!

Terrible horror: 5 facts about nightmares

Night­mares can hap­pen any­time, to any­one. Before them, both adults and chil­dren are defense­less. Unlike pic­tures of pop­u­lar films and block­busters, when the char­ac­ters rush around the bed and scream in their sleep, real night­mares deprive a per­son of voice and free­dom of move­ment.

As the sleep med­i­cine spe­cial­ist says Anisa Das, night­mares vis­it us dur­ing the phase of REM sleep, when all the mus­cles of a per­son, with the excep­tion of the eye and those involved in the breath­ing process, are par­a­lyzed. There­fore, you can­not get up and leave.

If you fight off a non-exis­tent oppo­nent and scream, then you are already awake. And this is anoth­er dif­fer­ence between a night­mare and sim­ple dreams — a per­son wakes up in the midst of a ter­ri­ble dream. What oth­er hor­ror facts should you know?

  • Chil­dren often have night­mares. Most of all, they dis­turb babies 3–6 years old, and the peak of bad dreams falls at the age of 10 years. Up to 50% of chil­dren expe­ri­ence severe night­mares that cause them to wake up their par­ents.
  • night­mares for adults dream too. Accord­ing to var­i­ous esti­mates, from 50 to 85% of adults report that they some­times dream of “hor­ror films”. But the old­er the per­son, the less often this hap­pens.
  • Women have night­mares more often than men. At the same time, there is a the­o­ry that night­mares help solve prob­lems in real life or pre­pare for them. Psy­chol­o­gist Bea­con Col­lege in the USA, AJ Mars­den says that preg­nant women or moth­ers of chil­dren of the first year of life often have bad dreams involv­ing babies, and women of old­er chil­dren live sit­u­a­tions in which some­thing hap­pens to their child. Accord­ing to the expert, such dreams call moth­ers to respon­si­bil­i­ty, bet­ter care for chil­dren.
  • Night­mares often haunt peo­ple with men­tal dis­or­ders. Accord­ing to sta­tis­tics, they are typ­i­cal for 75% of patients with post-trau­mat­ic syn­drome and 50% with bor­der­line per­son­al­i­ty dis­or­der.
  • Despite all the hor­ror of what is hap­pen­ing, night­mares are an inspi­ra­tion for writ­ers. For exam­ple, night dreams Stephanie Myers formed the basis of the best­seller “Twi­light”. Who would have thought!

Why do we have nightmares?

Why do we have nightmares?

Despite the fact that sci­ence has been study­ing night­mares for hun­dreds of years, there is still no exact answer to the ques­tion of why they dream. But there are rea­sons that often con­tribute to their appear­ance. Read more about them below!

Reason 1: Anxiety and stress

Some­times it is dai­ly stress that leads to the appear­ance of “hor­ror movies”. So anx­i­ety about study­ing or get­ting a new job can man­i­fest itself. Big events, like mov­ing to anoth­er city or part­ing with a loved one, can also esca­late hor­rors, like quar­rels with neigh­bors on the site or a sud­den seri­ous ill­ness among loved ones.

Reason 2: Injury

If a per­son once faced a strong trau­mat­ic event, it can remind of itself all his life. This may be phys­i­cal vio­lence, such as beat­ing; inti­mate nature — rape; or get­ting into a traf­fic acci­dent. Any acci­dent can become a “cat­a­lyst” of hor­rors.

Experts explain this by post-trau­mat­ic syn­drome and remind that it can (and should) be treat­ed. The right ther­a­py brings back good dreams.

Reason 3: Circadian Rhythm Disruption

Reason 3: Circadian Rhythm Disruption

Often night­mares and just bad dreams become com­pan­ions of peo­ple who work day and night. The cir­ca­di­an rhythms of the body are dis­turbed: today at 9 o’clock in the morn­ing the body requires high con­cen­tra­tion and atten­tion, and tomor­row at the same time — a relaxed state and sleep. Brings night­mares and lack of sleep, as such.

Anoth­er com­mon rea­son is going to bed at an unusu­al time, as a result — a per­son toss­es and turns for a long time and can­not fall asleep, and when he final­ly falls asleep, he falls into his worst night­mare.

Reason 4: Alcohol

If a per­son abus­es alco­hol, night­mares are not uncom­mon for him. The use of psy­chotrop­ic sub­stances and the use of smok­ing mix­tures can lead to the same end of the day.

A healthy lifestyle gives good dreams, and bad habits — bad.

Reason 5: Heavy meal before bed

Lit­er­ary crit­ics say that the plot of the nov­el “Drac­u­la” was a dream of its cre­ator Bram Stok­er after he had eat­en a very heavy meal before going to bed. Whether this is true is not known for cer­tain, but the fact that heavy food before going to bed brings not the best dreams is a fact!

Snack­ing before bed speeds up the metab­o­lism, which in turn makes the brain more active. The result of brain activ­i­ty and imag­i­na­tion is bad dreams.

Reason 6: Health condition

Reason 6: Health condition

Night­mares can also accom­pa­ny cer­tain dis­eases of the body. In this case, the treat­ment of the under­ly­ing dis­ease also relieves the night ter­rors.

Reason 7: Scary movie, book or game

Some­times hor­ror creeps into our dreams after read­ing a scary book or watch­ing thrillers and hor­ror movies, espe­cial­ly if you do it before bed. Bad dreams often hap­pen after par­tic­i­pat­ing in bloody video games.

But real events are not always reflect­ed in dreams. Researchers Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty, locat­ed in Mass­a­chu­setts, USA, ana­lyzed the dreams of Amer­i­cans after the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks. And although it turned out that the total num­ber of night­mares increased, falling “twin tow­ers” and crash­ing planes did not dream of peo­ple.

Expert com­ment

Tim­o­thy Legg, psy­chol­o­gist, psy­chi­a­trist

Lifestyle changes can help reduce the fre­quen­cy of your night­mares. Prac­tice these things:

  • exer­cise at least three times a week
  • lim­it the amount of alco­hol and caf­feine,
  • engage in relax­ation tech­niques before bed, such as yoga or med­i­ta­tion,
  • Set a sleep sched­ule by going to bed at the same time every night and wak­ing up at the same time every morn­ing.

If your child often has night­mares, invite him to talk about them. Explain that these dreams can­not harm him. Besides:

  • fol­low the estab­lished sleep rou­tine,
  • help your child relax with deep breath­ing exer­cis­es,
  • try with your child to “rewrite” the end of the night­mare, mak­ing it a hap­py end­ing,
  • give your child soft toys, blan­kets, or oth­er items for com­fort at night,
  • use a night light and leave the child’s bed­room door open at night.

Expert com­ment

Eric Suny, med­ical jour­nal­ist

You should talk to your doc­tor about night­mares if:

  • night­mares hap­pen more than once a week.
  • they affect your sleep, mood and/or dai­ly activ­i­ties,
  • accom­pa­ny the ini­ti­a­tion of a new ther­a­py.

To help your doc­tor under­stand how night­mares affect your health, you can start keep­ing a sleep diary that tracks your sleep and sleep dis­tur­bances, includ­ing night­mares.

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