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Why Do We Have Nightmares?

Why Do We Have Nightmares?

  • 5 min read

There’s nothing like waking up from a great dream. You might even wish you could go back to sleep just to relive the bliss. 

On the other hand, there’s nothing like the relief of awakening from a nightmare and realizing that reality is much safer than the frightening world you were in during sleep. 

What is the point of terrifying nightmares, if there is one at all? Can something so distressing have a positive impact on our brain chemistry, or is it harmful?

Although you likely want to have a good dream over a distressing one, there is an explanation and need for nightmares. 

It all starts in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase where we do most of our dreaming. 

REM Sleep and Nightmares

The REM sleep phase is known for evoking strange, vivid dreams

Scientists believe that sleep is an important part of memory processing, and dreams may play a larger role in storing memories than we once thought. 

During non-REM sleep, our memories are sorted through just like your recycling bin. Some memories are moved from temporary storage areas to permanent locations in the brain, becoming long-term memories. 

Vital details important to your survival and recall become harder to forget, while memories that aren’t as important are discarded. 

This explains why you might feel more level-headed after some sleep – the phrase “sleep on it” is no joke!

As we leave non-REM sleep and enter REM sleep, some of the memories that were organized may lead to vivid dreams. 

In REM sleep, brain activity is low, so you experience things that aren’t really there. In other words, you dream. 

These dreams help us remember what we need to recall or prepare for potentially threatening situations. 

For this reason, bad dreams aren’t inherently bad. They help us rehearse how we might avoid and tackle dangerous situations without physically being in danger. 

Different types of nightmares may serve different purposes. The type of nightmares that consist of wanting to run away but being unable to do so may help us better flee danger in real life. 

Moreover, a nightmare about having a bad experience while giving a big presentation at work may allow the brain to better prepare to actually give the presentation. 

Some psychologists even believe that dreams provide a window into the subconscious mind.

Dream Analysis: A Peek Into The Unconscious Mind

Dream analysis has played a huge role in psychoanalysis as a therapeutic technique. 

Sigmund Freud, who was known as the father of psychoanalysis, thought of dreams as a roadmap into the unconscious mind. 

He developed the technique of dream analysis and interpretation to tap into whatever thoughts might be lying underneath the active brain, giving insight into one’s mental health. 

Moreover, the types of nightmares you have may reveal what you are struggling to work through in your waking life. 

Freud believed that dreams revealed repressed wishes and emotions, a framework that some cognitive behavioural therapists still use in modern times. 

If you’re suffering from terrifying nightmares each night, it may be that your unconscious brain is unable to process a traumatic event. 

However, you may not need dream analysis to prevent nightmares. 

The Connection Between Trauma and Nightmares

No matter the types of nightmares you have, they may be connected to a more serious mental health condition. Nightmares are a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

In fact, up to 96 percent of people with PTSD report experiencing nightmares multiple times per week. 

Other symptoms include distressing thoughts, flashbacks, or involuntary memories. 

If you’ve experienced a traumatic moment in your life, such as a car accident or injury, your brain may not know how to store that memory. 

Even general nightmares in those without PTSD can cause life-threatening stress. With PTSD, these nightmares are usually caused by the existing trauma you previously experienced. 

For veterans, this might mean having nightmares about horrific events they experienced while on missions. 

A history of violence or physical abuse is also known to cause nightmares that may relate to re-living the distress. 

When someone fears going to sleep, sleep deprivation sets in, harming mental and physical health even further. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is used widely as a treatment for PTSD, which may help relieve nightmares altogether. 

This treatment is thought to mimic the eye movement that takes place during REM sleep during waking hours. 

In this therapy, a patient holds a memory of a traumatic event in their mind while engaging in eye movements led by a therapist. 

After each set of back and forth eye movements, the patient notes thoughts, feelings, or images that come up within their mind. 

 

@somnifix The connection between #REMsleep and #EMDR 💤 #emdrtherapy #insomnia #nightmares via @Sandy, LICSW ♬ Aesthetic Girl - Yusei

This process is repeated to desensitize and reorganize the brain to the trauma and has a success rate of 77 percent when it comes to treating PTSD symptoms, including nightmares. 

If you don’t believe that trauma is to blame for your bad dreams, sleep apnea may be the cause. 

Sleep Apnea Leads to Bad Dreams 

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by an obstructed airway during sleep. 

In turn, the blocked airway results in a lack of oxygen. This interruption in breathing is known to activate our fight or flight response, causing stress hormones to skyrocket. 

Entering this stressed state may show up in your dreams, causing nightmares. 

A sleep study can rule out a sleep disorder, but the following symptoms may be a strong indicator of sleep apnea: 

  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Snoring
  • Irritability and difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Lapses in breathing during sleep, which may include choking or gasping 

If you suffer from sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy may help to relieve the blockage during sleep by keeping the airway open with a continuous stream of air during sleep. 

That might mean you’re more likely to breathe easier at night, causing you to have a good dream over a bad one. 

However, mouth leaks are still possible, even with a chin strap. That’s where mouth tape comes in as your best bet to ensure you have a good dream, whether you have sleep apnea or not. 

Say Hello to Sweet Dreams With SomniFix

Mouth breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, stressing the body and mind

If you breathe through your mouth at night, you may have a harder time falling and staying asleep. 

Nasal breathing, on the other hand, activates our rest and digest response. That means you’ll be able to oxygenate your body effectively and efficiently. 

Mouth tape allows you to nasal breathe even while you’re asleep. Simply place a SomniFix Mouth Strip over your mouth before bed and you’re done!

As a result, you’ll wake feeling fully rested, sleep snore-free, and you may even have a good dream over a bad one. 

Mouth breathing is a nightmare. Put it to bed for good with SomniFix!

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