Have you ever woken up with an unpleasant dream?

Is it King Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Chrismas that’s doing his boring scare and scream routine again?

Did you know there are biological and spiritual explanations for it?

I had a chronic nightmare that went on consecutively in a period of 6 months and my community supported me to heal it in 2 weeks.

Read on and I’ll share the following throughout the article…

What nightmare is

Distinguish nightmares and night terrors

Spiritual and psychoanalytical explanations for nightmares

Biological explanations for nightmares

Sleep study to rule out some of the causes

Cause of my nightmares and what made a difference in healing it

Nightmares are defined as unpleasant dreams that generally occur during rapid eye movement (REM) and lead to awakening with fear, anxiety or other mentally disturbing experiences. [1]

When I looked into the research, it looks like I’m not the only one having nightmares. In fact, around 40% of people experience one nightmare per month. [2]

Amongst all, women tend to report suffering from nightmares more so than men. [3]

I recall asking people on my Facebook community to share their experience with regards to nightmare and noticed a large population used the terms nightmares, bad dreams, and night terrors interchangeably.

So before we move on to the juicy part of the article, I want us all to be on the same page.

Unpleasant dreams are categorized into nightmares, night terrors and bad dreams. [4]


You don’t sleep through them.

Content builds up and gets worse over time.

Typically happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (where the brain is most active compared to all the other stages of sleep: vivid dreaming).

Typically happens during the second half of the night.

Typically affects adults.

Easier to comfort after waking up.

Night terrors:

You sleep through them.

Content suddenly becomes terrifying.

Typically happen during stage 3 sleep (non-REM).

Typically happens during the first half of the night.

Typically affects kids and they mostly outgrow them.

It’s difficult to comfort them after waking as they have to jump from stage 3 or 4 of sleep to stage 1- they may not make the jump and not even notice people around them.

Sleepwalking, shouting and screaming are usually accompanied by night terrors.

Bad dreams:

You sleep through them and it’s not a night terror.

Now that we distinguished nightmares from other types of unpleasant dreams, let’s look into the spiritual and biological explanations for nightmares.


While the content seemed diverse and random, it certainly had something to do with my fear.

In addition to fear, disgust and anger are also emotions connected with nightmares [5].

In my case, fear and anger were the emotions associated with nightmares. One of the fears I had to overcome was of drowning in water.

My first experience with swimming in deeper than my height level swimming pool involved being thrown into it by my swimming coach!

I call it tough love.

In psychology, they call it flooding and rapid exposure therapy.

In my dreams, I’d see myself in a submarine drowning.

Another nightmare which I’m yet to find a root experience for is about my penis being chopped in pieces :O

As you notice, the struggle was real!!

I shared the content of my dreams with my community and Isabel Hundt [6] shot me a PM with the following questions:

“I currently see the color blue as dominant color which is about trust, responsibility and honesty. It seems to me that there is a disconnect aka using your voice in regards to being a man. What needs to be expressed that you are currently suppressing? Where don’t you feel secure within currently in your role as a man? ..”

While I’m not going to answer all the questions in this blog post, I’m excited to announce you’ll be seeing more content on the above from me. Hint hint I gained almost 20Lbs muscle, transformed my confidence, transformed my dating life etc

BIOLOGICAL: From a biological standpoint, what actually causes nightmares?

Because I created a sleep hacking intro course I felt so embarrassed I could not figure out how to heal my nightmares. Once I gave up that belief I finally visited our family doc.

I asked this question from my MD and he went: “why do you care to get to the bottom of this. Let me prescribe anxiolytic drugs for ya so you are not bothered by the nightmare”. You know my stance on that …


Unlike the response of my MD to the question above, influencers and experts in the wellness industry in addition to my community: people like YOU had a lot to say about the causes of nightmares.

What follows is a collection of responses and personal experiences with backed up science on biological causes of nightmares:

  1. Any external stimulant for brain activities present during REM [more specifically any stimulant for amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex]. For example, having your favorite odor (roses odor in a double-blinded study)leads to unpleasant dream emotions. [7]. If you really like the lavender smell you have on your pillow at night to sleep better it may be causing nightmares for you.
  2. Pyrolouria. ”Carl Pfeiffer MD made this B6/dreams/nightmares connection in the 1980s with his work with schizophrenia/pyroluria, said Trudy Scott [founder of every woman over 29]. She also stated, “Both zinc and B6 are needed to make serotonin which converts to melatonin to help us sleep”. I took her Pyrolouria survey [8]and my score was 20. After going through her protocol my score today is 11!! In response to what depletes B6: Dr. Grace Liu [founder of Gut Institute] said,“ Candida/SIFO overgrowths dump oxalates and if you have AGXT mutations, you need a lot more P5P, B6, probiotics, minerals, glutathione, and taurine to degrade these oxalates as well as dietary oxalates. B6 and the activated B6 known as P5P are vital in breaking down toxins and oxalates. Need B6 for steroid production, lowering hyperhomocysteinemia, maintain red blood cells and prevent anemia, etc. You need probiotics in the gut to ‘integrate’ B vitamins so we use liposomal [9].
  3. Medications: According to Dr. Sharon Orrange [10] there are 7 types of medications including beta blockers, anti-depressant, sleep aids! etc that induce nightmares. See a comprehensive list of medications that deplete B6 (and eventually lead to nightmares) [11]. Some of the medications that are commonly associated with nightmares are Clonazepam, Low-dose Naltrexone and Piracetam. Clonazepam is a medication that is not talked about as much[12]. Low-dose naltrexone may induce nightmares in its users [13]. Also, nootropics users be aware Piracetam has shown to cause nightmares for some.
  4. Tapeworms, Roundworms and Pinworms. If roundworm and pinworm cause nightmare then consuming wormwood capsule for 4 weeks is helpful [14]
  5. Environmental toxic mold is a common cause of vivid nightmares, said Dave Asprey [founder of Bulletproof]”. He added, “If you started in a new sleeping space, look for mold. Nightmares are a common symptom of sleeping in a moldy place. Parasites also can cause them.“ [15]
  6. Sleep apnea (not directly)[16]and restless leg syndrome contribute to nightmares. For example, I had a mild sleep apnea diagnosed by my sleep study. I use taping every night to remedy that. Naomi Judge [Naturopath and nutritionist] stated, “the brain will catch up where it can on dreaming as dreaming performs an important function”. If you are in extreme sleep deficit or not sleeping very well then your dreams will be more vivid, nightmares and you may even hallucinate.” [17]
  7. Shannon Pickering Brown [founder of autoimmune foodie] had a personal experience with Narcolepsy. She shared, “hypnagogic hallucinations are a hallmark of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is typically not diagnosed if it is the non-cataplexy type.” [18]Both Narcolepsy with cataplexy and without cataplexy are associated with nightmares. [19]
  8. “I’ve seen that {nightmares} in lots of patients who take valerian too”, said Brodie Welch[founder of Healthy Curiosity Podcast][20]. Valerian contains essential oil and iridoid that stimulate opioid receptors and serotonin thereby making our dreams more vivid [21]. More vivid dreams for people who are prone to have unpleasant dreams lead to nightmares.
  9. Heat in the liver according to Chinese Medicine, said Brodie. She added In Chinese Medicine, the peak time for Liver and Gallbladder is 11pm-3am. They’re supposed to be on detox duty cleaning instead of digesting food. It’s not a 1:1 but if you’re struggling with nightmares, eating before 7 pm is advised. “ In Chinese medicine dreams are explained by perspectives of Yi (intellect and attention) and Hun (ethereal soul). Nightmares are then formed by Hun moves information around and Yi engages feelings including fear to give our attention to the dreams taking place. [22]Maggie K Berghoff added [nurse practitioner trained in functional medicine] “eating before bed = body and metabolism must work to digest it. Instead of allowing the body to rest, and heal during sleep, the body is focused on digesting the food. This increases brain activity during REM sleep and can cause nightmares in some cases” [23]I’m doing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), dutch test and cortisol awakening so we see if that’s an issue.
  10. Hilary Salmon responded: “Garlic gave me nightmares”. To this date, there is no connection made between garlic and nightmare found in the literature. I say garlic lowers blood sugar and extremely low blood sugar combined with high cortisol (stress hormone) creates stress and therefore stimulation for the brain. The stimulated brain then allows for nightmare formation. It may also be due to food sensitivities. Shannon Pickering Brown added: “any time sleep is restless, you may be more prone to nightmares. Food sensitivities commonly result in restlessness and therefore potential nightmares”. [18] Annet Veenstra responded that, “that anxiety might be caused by histamine reactions so use a heart monitor app (e.g.) Cardio to find out if you react to certain types of food (monitor your heart rate when you wake up): a histamine reaction makes your heart rate go up with 15 or 20 or more”.
  11. High doses (more than 1mg) of melatonin leads to nightmares. [24]
  12. Trauma and anxiety. This is by the far the most studied one. bear in mind nightmares have an adaptive role so they fade out once we deal with the root of them [25] Carol Lourie [naturapath and functional medicine expert] and I had a conversation where I got to vocalize some of my traumatic experiences. She was the one made me think about finding a common theme in all the nightmares. I stopped meditation for a while so that may have contributed to my higher than usual anxiety. [26] Erin Elizabeth [founder of Health Nut News], the founder of healthnutnews suggested seeing a hypnotherapist.[27]. In addition to talking it out and hypnotherapy, Imagery rehearsal training (IRT) is one effective way to deal with nightmares that are caused by trauma and anxiety. [28]
  13. “Low carb or keto diet? I have heard that can cause insomnia and also nightmares.”, said Sara Vance [nutrionist and author]:[29]This was the most surprising one to me. I began on keto diet in 2015 so that took a long time to get me into nightmares 😉 My sleep specialist also mentioned she has seen others on keto experience nightmares. While there are no studies around the connection between ketogenic diet and nightmares. There are certainly studies around mental sharpness and neuroprotective impact of ketogenic diet. I wonder if keto somewhat increases brain stimulation causes vivid dreaming and therefore nightmares.
  14. Dr. Evan Hirsch mentioned, “Other infections like Bartonella, Babesia and strep.” [30]
  15. Sleeping on the left side is more likely to cause nightmares. [31]. Based on my sleep study sleeping supinal is also not helping my nightmares because of the oxygen obstruction is elevated. I have since become a right side sleeper.
  16. Naomi Judge [naturapth and nutritionist] believes Hormones imbalance is also another cause. She stated, “Fullmoon + Ovulation causes extreme vivid dreams. It is the action of estrogen on GABA and glutamate”. [17]

I went to two more doctors for additional opinions. The 3rd doc agreed to refer me to a sleep specialist. It took a month to get an appointment with the sleep specialist. It took another month to schedule a sleep study ordered by my specialist to rule out some of the biological causes.

I was curious to see what causes can be ruled out from a sleep study:

haha I look super sexy with Tru Dark blue blockers 😉

WHY hypopnea and isolated leg movements were unlikely to have caused nightmares for me:

Given that nightmares occur during REM I looked for the timing of the last REM episode.

Starting at 4:40:08 AM till 5:45:16 AM (almost wake up time)a REM episode is recorded for me. I recall having nightmares right before I woke up so I studied the data in that time span carefully…

My biggest worry prior and during the sleep study was that some of the wires (not all) get taken off me and it messes up my sleep study. Why did I care? I would have had to wait for another month to do a second sleep study 🙁

My worry turned into my nightmare where I was seeing all of my anxious thoughts come true.

I had 18 isolated leg movements from which half of them happened during my REM cycle starting at 4:40:08 AM.

You can see by far right of the screenshot below I have about 9 dots right around the nightmare time. Because they are isolated it wasn’t something to worry about.

According to the sleep study, I have a mild sleep apnea (hypopnea).

The oximetry during the nightmare time was 100%. Also, from the Hypopnea Analysis table below you can see Obstructive value in NREM is 10x the value REM. By the way, this is a great for me as during REM I could experience reduced muscle tone in my airways.

The apnea and nightmare didn’t happen at the same time. That could mean that it’s not the sleep apnea that’s causing the nightmare.

It’s hard to see from the image but on the horizontal axis, time is measured. On the vertical axis [from 0–100] Oximetry is measured.

From the study, I concluded hypopnea and isolated leg movements (not periodic leg movements in sleep: PLMS) were unlikely to cause my nightmares.

Limitation of Sleep Studies In My Opinion:

I’m suspicious those little antennas are either Bluetooth or wifi transmitters. This is something I look further into and will update this accordingly.

Some beautiful CFC light that is harmful to sleep quality!!

1. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFC) next to me and on the ceiling (instead of my sexy LED red lights I have in my bedroom).

2. Many wires and possibly wifi/Bluetooth for the camera and other devices they had in the room. Also, dirty electricity could be a factor that I did not measure.

3. Uncomfortable mattress and pillow.

4. I asked to sleep naked and the nurse on staff didn’t let me. HAHA 🙂

You may be reading this and think it’s funny and in reality, my sleep results were impacted by changing that variable. Wearing a layer on may increase wakefulness and reduce slow wave sleep and REM. [32]

Concluding thoughts:

So finally what healed my nightmares, you may ask:

Thanks to my colleague, Trudy Scott [33]I was put on her pyroluria protocol with the hope of getting some relief from the nightmares.

In a matter of 2 weeks of consuming 250mg B6 and 15mg zinc, I became nightmare free.

Please check out the following blogs posts of her to do her pyroluria questionnaire.

If you like my content you very likely dig her content too so check out her great content!!

While I have healed the nightmares I’m not quite done with this 80% sleep quality data I got from the sleep study.

I’ll be experimenting with a continuous blood glucose monitor, gH and several secret protocols haha! to raise that percentage significantly.

In the meantime, if you have any questions for me drop it below and give me a clap so this can be shared with people all over the world.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480567
  2. https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/38/4/507/2416820
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20817509
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17498981
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16614545
  6. isabelhundt.com
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29778917
  8. https://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/pyroluria-questionnaire-from-the-antianxiety-food-solution
  9. https://thegutinstitute.myshopify.com/search?type=product&q=Maximus
  10. https://www.goodrx.com/blog/7-medications-that-cause-nightmares-and-disturbing-dreams/.
  11. http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=107&pid=33&gid=000721
  12. (2016). Clonazepam. Reactions Weekly, 1585(1), 78–78.
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3962576/
  14. https://draxe.com/wormwood/
  15. https://blog.bulletproof.com/how-your-house-can-make-you-weak/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17061140
  17. https://www.naomijudge.com
  18. https://www.austinmusclerestoration.com
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24796285
  20. https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/a-healthy-curiosity/id1133292360?mt=2
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11536390
  22. https://www.sleep-journal.com/article/S1389-9457(15)01932-2/fulltext
  23. https://www.maggieberghoff.com/
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9406047
  25. Hartmann, E. (1998). Dreams and nightmares: The new theory on the origin and meaning of dreams. New York, NY, US: Plenum Trade.
  26. http://carollourie.com
  27. https://www.healthnutnews.com/
  28. Cavera, R., Jacobs, L., & Motta, R. (2013). Experimental Exposure Therapy for Posttraumatic Nightmares. Clinical Case Studies, 12(3), 213–227.
  29. https://www.saravance.com
  30. https://www.fixyourfatigue.org
  31. http://www.sleepandhypnosis.org/ing/Pdf/9cf6fb582430425193687f6ac8889038.pdf
  32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427038/
  33. https://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/pyroluria-prevalence-associated-conditions/

Originally published at medium.com


  • Arvin Khamseh

    Biohacking Content Creator

    Having helped people in 48 different countries boost their sleep quality, Arvin knows what universally holds true when it comes to hacking sleep. Extraordinary Human Living (EHL) Founder, Arvin Khamseh is an Oxford-trained geek and graduate of the National Organization of Development of Exceptional Talents. He is a contributor to publications: Thrive Global, American Student Dental Association (ASDA), Medium and Better Humans. Arvin’s expert advice has been featured on top named Inc Magazine podcast: Conscious Millionaire. He has reversed 2 dental cavities, gained 20Lb muscle in 3 months, increased his heart rate variability by 4 scores in a month, healed a chronic nightmare that went on for 6 months in 2 weeks among many other experiments.