Why do we call them nightmares?


How often do you wake up in the middle of the night, your heart pounding out of your chest? While children are frequently known to be having bad dreams, this is no strange thing for adults. Whether they happen often or not, a peek into the root of what causes these dreams, won’t do any harm. So why do we call them nightmares?

What is a nightmare?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, a nightmare is “a very upsetting or frightening dream, or an extremely unpleasant event or experience”. They are vividly realistic dreams that may often wake you up from a deep sleep. They cause anger, fear, anxiety or sadness, feelings that can persist long before the nightmare is over. This type of dream takes place during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find yourself experiencing nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

The most recurrent themes in nightmares are: falling from a great height, not being able to run fast enough, being chased or threatened. It may happen to dream something more abstract. Something that you are afraid of in general or something that left a psychological mark on you. What we call a nightmare can be different from what others may call it. There is no guideline for what we call nightmares. 

What causes nightmares?

Nightmares are mostly spontaneous, but there are many factors that can trigger them. Some may experience the bad dreams after a late-night snack that increased their metabolism, which signaled the brain to be more active during the night. Some type of medication can also make them appear, such as antidepressants, blood pressure medication or narcotics. Alcohol can also play an important part in this whole story. 

Nightmares can be also caused by a series of disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or even sleep deprivation.   

How do nightmares affect our health?

To have a bad dream is one thing, but when a bad dream turns into something that affects your day to day life, you might want to take a look at it. Among people who experience nightmares, those who are anxious or depressed are likely to be more affected. They are the ones that suffer even more psychological ill effects. Although the relationship is not understood, nightmares have been associated with suicide. The best solution is to talk to a therapist and find the root in your psyche that triggers what we call nightmares.

Bad, tormented sleep may lead to serious mental health issues. It can increase depression or anxiety and may cause obesity and heart diseases.  

What is the treatment for nightmares?

Before consulting a specialist, you might want to create a behavior that assures you a good-night sleep. A good rest is always welcomed and beneficial. Make your bedroom a relaxing space, free from stress and other problems that might weigh you during the day. Also, try and avoid consuming nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, not only before bed, but as often as possible. Of course, the advice of a specialist is most recommended, as he is the one that may treat the medication-triggered nightmares. He is the one that might help you make changes in your diet and lifestyle in general. 


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