Shadow figure behind fog

Have you ever woken up at night in a panic?

Many of us experience this at some point during our lives. Dreams that seem particularly real and involve disturbing events and images that wake you up and kick your heart into overdrive are known as “nightmares”, and they can be far scarier than anything you might imagine during your waking hours.

What exactly causes nightmares, however, and what they mean for the dreamer is a bit of a mystery, even with today’s scientific studies and advances. Let’s take a look at what we know about nightmares and what they might mean for your life.

Nightmares are Story-Driven

According to a report composed by The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, nightmares are more story-driven than night terrors. This might be something as a surprise given that many people believe night terrors are just a “scarier” version of nightmares. In reality, however, the distinction between the two is a bit more complicated.

People suffering from nightmares often wake up and remember their dream. At the very least, they tend to recollect enough of the dream to put together some sort of plot. Night terrors, on the other hand, don’t have narratives – at least not that sufferers can recall once they wake up.

What exactly does this mean? Well, research is a bit more divided on this issue. It could mean that nightmares pull fears from your waking hours and transform them into something terrifying, which is a pretty scary prospect. Think twice before you watch those scary movies right before bed!

Nightmares Occur When You’re Sleeping Deeply

So if I have a nightmare that means I got great sleep?

Not quite. Obviously our sleep is vital to our health and is what enables us to function from day to day. More specifically, deep sleep, also known as REM sleep, is a healing period that allows our body and minds to recover from the day and prepare for the next. Nightmares happen during REM sleep, when your mind is most quiet and vulnerable. They can catapult you from deep sleep to consciousness several times a night even, and they effectively disrupt your entire sleep cycle.

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that if you’re experiencing nightmares, you might not be getting enough deep sleep to keep you healthy. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to reach out to your healthcare professional if you’re having consistent nightmares.

Nightmares May be a Manifestation of Stress

There are many reasons why stress is bad for your health, but did you know that nightmares might be directly related to it? When you are under stress, your mind works overtime worrying about the worst-case scenarios that could occur in your specific situation. In other words, your mind doesn’t really have a moment to rest at all during the day, and nightmares might take away its brief respite while you sleep, too. Evidence suggests that nightmares often occur as a direct result of increased stress levels and a common symptom of issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What this means for you is that if you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to experience nightmares. To help avoid this, do your best to relax before bed and get a good night’s sleep. Taking some time out of your day to purposefully unwind and turn attention away from whatever is stressing you out is a good way to help boost the quality of your sleep.

Nightmares could be worsened by discomfort

If your sleeping setup isn’t up to par, your discomfort could be contributing to your nightmares. When you can’t get comfortable, you’ll be tossing and turning throughout the night and potentially worsen the nightmares you suffer from. It’s even been said that your sleeping position could be the problem if you sleep on your back, although this is the best position that sleeping experts recommend so who’s to say?

To avoid your bad dreams, make sure you have a cozy setup in the bedroom. Know what to look for in a good quality bed that matches your needs, decorate it up with breathable bedding, and have sweet dreams all night long.

What kind of nightmares do you experience? If you’re struggling to get some quality sleep, hopefully the information above can help you find the root of your nightmares and kick them to the curb.