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Why do we have nightmares? How can we cope with them?

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Home » Blog » Wellbeing » Why do we have nightmares? How can we cope with them?

Modern point of view:

Psychologists usually define a nightmare as a terrifying dream. Nightmares are a natural part of sleep, they usually happen in the early morning hours. They tend to occur during Rapid Eye Movement sleep. Dreams are a feedback system telling how the brain is functioning; nightmares are telling what is going on, inside the head. CG Jung has done a lot of research on dreams; they are surfacing of our unconscious so when they surface, they freak us out. But dreams can be quite revelatory. They are gateways to future states.

Who is having nightmares?

Nightmares are more common among children, but adult have nightmares too. Parents can help children understand their nightmares with interpretive questions. Nightmares tend to disappear after adolescence. Adult nightmares are more complicated and more challenging to resolve. Recurrent nightmares are about falling from a high height or failing running away from danger. Nightmare disorder can stop a person from sleeping properly and can cause distress during day time. The post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) re-traumatize the dreamer, making him feel like he did, when he had the traumatic experience.

What are the causes?

There are obvious causes for bad dreams and nightmare:

  • Being on medication such as antidepressants, blood pressure tablets and narcotics
  • Late night snack (activation of the brain)
  • Withdrawal from substances (alcohol, drug)
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Sleep disorders (sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome)
  • Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are sleep perturbators

What are the cures?

It is important to have a quiet and relaxing bedroom, a room associated with positive feelings. A place reserved for sleeping and sexual intercourses. Yoga and meditative practices can help, as they can calm the mind and the body. Imagery rehearsal treatment is a promising therapy for recurrent nightmares and PTSD victims. There is never the less a positive side to nightmares; people having nightmares tend to be more creative than others.

Dreams in cultures and traditions

Native American Lakota tribe rely on dreams to point them in the right direction. Especially when a decision needs to be made. In the Australian culture, dreams often correlated to significant events that the dreamer was experiencing or anticipating in his life. The Egyptians viewed dreams as messages from the Gods. Hippocrates (father of modern medicine) perceived dreams as important indicators of physical and mental health. 

Interpreting dreams

Cultures around the world have developed their own traditions for interpreting dreams. Oneirocritica (Interpretation of Dreams), was written by Artemidorus in ancient Greece. It has inspired a lot of modern books about Interpreting dreams.


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