The US National Library of Medicine defines a nightmare as, “a bad dream that brings out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress, or anxiety.” A dream, then, is a series of thoughts or images that happen during the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Research has shown that the biggest amount of common adult dreams are in a category known as “pseudonightmarish” dreams, which is essentially any dream of being in trouble or in danger, being alone and/or trapped, something you don’t have control over (like losing your teeth), or facing natural forces.
Dr. Ishaad Ebrahim is an MD, MRCPsych, and Neuropsychiatric Specialist in Sleep Disorders at the Constanta Sleep Centre. An MD is any type of medical doctor. An MRCPsych is a “Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.” A neuropsychologist specialist essentially has a scientific aspect and a medical aspect. Dr. Ebrahim believes that almost anyone is capable of having a nightmare during the REM stage of sleep. He said, “If we consider only attack dreams, which are one of the most common nightmare themes, the lifetime prevalence varies from 67% to 90%. Pursuit, a closely related, highly disturbing theme, has a lifetime prevalence of 92% among women and 85% among men.”
Types of Dreams
Nightmares are classified into two main categories; recurrent and repetitive. Recurrent dreams show stress and/or conflicts through metaphors over a period of time. Typically, people with recurrent dreams have been shown to not adapt well to new anxieties and stresses in their lives, depression, and personal change. Repetitive dreams are more a replay of an unresolved event such as a car accident or war trauma.
Why Do We Have Nightmares?
Deirdre Barrett is a psychologist at Harvard University. She believes that nightmares are our brain’s way of taking important issues and putting them front and center in our brains. “Nightmares are probably evolved to help make us anxious about potential dangers. Even post-traumatic nightmares, which just retraumatize us, may have been useful in ancestral times when a wild animal that had attacked you, or a rival tribe that had invaded may well be likely to come back.” In short, Barrett believes that at some point in time, nightmares helped us to survive. Even though in this day and age it is hard to imagine nightmares ever having a purpose, what she has to say does make sense. Today, if you are hit by a car, the odds of it happening to you again are pretty low. However, a long time ago, if you were attacked by some sort of animal, she’s right, you would run the risk of having it happen again, and therefore, the nightmares would help to keep you aware of your surroundings.
Nightmares in Children
Multiple studies have shown that in the first ten years of life, the amount and severity of nightmares go up in number. After the first ten years, it begins to go down until young adulthood, but still never completely stops. Typically, nightmares don’t stop, although as you age,...