Your Worst Nightmare: The Reason We Experience Terrifying Dreams

Darkness spins.

The hairy legs of a tarantula crawl up to your face. A slippery snake encircles your feet. Fins circle around you, slowly closing as you enter the deep, murky water.

Your teeth fall out of your mouth in a shower of enamel. You’re standing in front of a huge crowd in nothing but your underwear…

you got up Your face is sweating, your heart is pounding in the darkness of your room, and your disoriented senses are struggling for balance. you are fine you’re safe.

It was just a bad dream.

the stuff of nightmares

Nightmares can ruin your entire night. They are offensive – vivid, terrifying dreams that condemn us to a nocturnal purgatory, half-asleep and shaking in the dark. Fear and panic are common associations with the nightmare-infested brain, which reconciles its terrifying dream experience with a sudden return to reality.

It is not uncommon. According to Sleep Education, an estimated 50% to 85% of American adults report occasional nightmares, with up to 5% of Americans regularly experiencing nightmares as a result of a nightmare disorder. For the latter camp, frequent nocturnal episodes are a type of parasomnia or a disruptive sleep disorder. from sleep paralysis sleep walkingParasomnias can have a more serious impact on sleep quality and waking life.

If you only have nightmares occasionally – maybe once every two weeks – it’s usually pretty easy to diagnose. Common triggers for nightmares include stress, poor sleep hygiene, anxiety, the adrenaline rush of a scary movie, and illnesses (especially fevers).

But when these nightmares begin to impair the quality of your sleep and haunt your mind during your waking hours, there is cause for concern.

For more than 10 years, psychology student Gemma Simpson has suffered from disruptive nightmares that regularly affect her sleep and daily life.

“Sleep is always worse right after a nightmare,” she said. “They’re always livable, so I unconsciously gnaw on them for the next few days until the trauma subsides a bit.”

She describes her nightmares as rarely erotic and largely traumatic, with violence and graphic experiences being the norm. These can be incredibly confronting topics.

“I once dreamed that my father hit me with an aluminum baseball bat in an art gallery,” she said. “The art gallery bit was very specific and weird… I’ve also had nightmares of assault and violence.”

As a psychology student, Simpson was well-acquainted with Freud’s dream theory, which holds that they represent unconscious desires and feelings for the brain to process.

“All your memory consolidation happens in your sleep,” she said. “I think it’s quite possible that on days when I have nightmares, I may have seen something that alerted me to my traumas, even if I didn’t think about it at the time.

According to sleep psychologist Dan Ford of the Better Sleep Clinic in Auckland, trying to interpret dreams after waking up can only be helpful if it makes you feel comfortable.

“The common explanation is that something’s not quite right, and that’s why you get nightmares, so I’d probably stay on that kind of level,” he said. “Because that’s how good dreams are in general, isn’t it? It’s so absurd.

“Perhaps you are spending your time on something that is not important. If it is a repetition related to the trauma you experienced, it probably does not need interpretation.

What actually happens in your brain?

According to CNET’s sister site Healthline, the human brain typically goes through four stages of sleep during the course of a night.

These stages are separated by different brain and body activity and indicate how much sleep the person is experiencing – usually measured through an electroencephalogram, or EEG.

Stage one involves the brain and body slowly falling asleep – your heart rate regulates, your system begins to calm down and this usually takes up to five minutes. Stage two is light sleep, in which you have settled down but not immersed yourself in the sleep needed to initiate tissue growth, system repair, and cell regeneration.

Stage three is the deep sleep stage, known as slow wave sleep. The body is completely relaxed, delta brain waves are present and there is no eye movement. Your body is regenerating cells, your immune system is getting stronger and your heart rate is at its slowest.

Finally, the fourth stage is known as rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep. Here you may dream, where your brain activity speeds up and your eyes move rapidly. For most people, their limbs become paralyzed while they sleep.

It usually takes up to an hour and a half to fall into REM sleep, so while it may feel like you’re dreaming when your head hits the pillow, it probably isn’t.

“For the average person, this means that nightmares are more likely to occur in the second half of the night,” Ford said.

Nightmares only occur in REM sleep, where the brain is most active. In people who do not experience the limb paralysis element of stage four, it may still occur when they sleepwalking or acting out your dreams – although it is admittedly rare. others experience sleep paralysis part, which can be terrifying in its own way.

“Essentially what we’re doing is processing emotion,” Ford said. “What we’re probably seeing is someone who is potentially overstimulated, so their arousal level or sympathetic nervous system is activated.” or becomes active, and then bleeds “in their sleep and in their nightmares.”

nightmares vs nightmares

Although similar in name, nightmares and nightmares are not interchangeable experiences.

When I was a teenager, I used to babysat a lot. One night I was babysitting a friend who had a new family. The night was going well until they went to bed. After forty minutes of sleep, the 9-year-old child came out of the bedroom screaming without being told.

His eyes were wide open, staring at me intently as he continued to let out blood-curdling screams. Although he didn’t look like it, he was still sleeping.

Prior to dropping out the parents had failed to warn me that their child frequently suffered from night terrors, which are clearly distinct from nightmares and are associated with delusions, screaming, and other vocalizations.

“They are both parasomnias, but they occur in different stages of sleep,” Ford said. “So night terrors usually occur in non-dreams or non-REM sleep, and nightmares occur primarily in REM sleep.”

This means that night terrors usually occur earlier in the sleep cycle. Night terrors are mainly experienced by children between the ages of 4 and 12 and usually occur in some children who are now older.

One of the main differences between nightmare disorders and nightmares is the lack of memory. A sleeper who awakens from a nightmare will typically have an abstract memory of the main features of their dream – perhaps a particularly frightening figure or emotion – while people suffering from nightmares wake up without any memory of their experience. .

As a result, night terrors can be more distressing to those around the sleeper. For parents, hearing their child in the middle of the night is the stuff horror movies are made of.

nightmare in every street

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.

In the film world, nightmare is synonymous with danger. From Nightmare on Elm Street to The Boogeyman, these films have not only cemented their place in pop culture, but have often been targeted for the reasoning behind real-life nightmares.

Healthline suggests that if you are prone to ingesting sensitive material, you may not be the best candidate for watching scary movies as it can affect your sleep and mental health. But some people absolutely love the thrill and dread of this genre – so what is it?

From a psychological perspective, horror films and thrillers stimulate the production of adrenaline in a controlled environment – ​​one that is in the hands of the viewer to initiate, but also to stop.

“One of the criteria for a diagnosis is that the nightmare is some kind of threat to your physical integrity. So in that sense, the nightmare content is very dangerous to the person who is having it,” Ford said.

The problem is, with the advent of better technology and effects, movies look more realistic and dangerous than ever before – even when we’re looking at fictional creatures like zombies and demons.

If you’re someone who has mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and especially PTSD, then the experience of watching a scary movie can definitely add to your chances of having nightmares.

Simpson said, “I stay away from horror movies where people do scary things.” “I’m usually good if it’s a fictional creature, but I don’t really watch horror because of the nightmare potential.”

“My brain is like, ‘I know monsters and aliens aren’t real,’ so I can justify it, but if it’s humans, that’s a little too realistic.”

Elisabeth Olsen in her crimson superhero costume in Marvel's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Miracle

If so, it’s no wonder that nightmares have become a staple in horror and thriller pop culture—the fight-or-flight reflex elicited by horror movies is the same reflex we feel when we wake up from a nightmare. Which threatens our physical integrity…

But for many people, having nightmares on film, usually with happy endings, can feel like a safe, controlled option.

One of the most comforting, albeit disturbing, nightmare ideas in pop culture comes from Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film explains that when you dream, you experience a window into the life you live in an alternate universe.

In doing so, it suggests that all dreams and nightmares may be windows into multiverses – abstract universes with different rules, experiences and modalities. Despite having no scientific backing, the recent polymorphism trend makes this a theory that provides some comfort.

So, the next time you have a nightmare, just remember that maybe somewhere — in some universe — there’s a 10-foot tarantula clad in your underwear stuck face-down on you.

But it’s not you.

it’s just a dream.

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