A nightmare is a type of dream, a disturbing and frightening dream. Reality is displayed and interpreted in the form of nightmares. In such a way, the brain processes information for the past day and the entire previous life of a person. That is why we often dream about the people we met the day before and re-live old events while sleeping. Nightmares can indicate both mental problems and developing serious illnesses, as well as non-compliance with sleep hygiene. Nightmares can be triggered by stress, traumatic events, or mental disorders such as PTSD or depression. How to get rid of nightmares?
What causes nightmares?
In the case of nightmares, it is important to pay special attention to their duration and regularity. Nightmares can have physical causes, such as sleeping in an uncomfortable position or a fever, or psychological causes, such as stress or anxiety.
Nightmares can be provoked by a complex problem that does not have a quick solution. Nightmares can be affected by lack of regular exercise, poor diet, insufficient water intake, tension in the neck, shoulders or back, alcohol use and use of gadgets before bed, intrusive thoughts that cause painful emotions, and the inability to regulate psychological and emotional load.
If nightmares become regular, interfere with life, and a person wakes up sore and tired over and over again, this may be a symptom of a psychiatric illness.
Avoid eating before sleep
Eating before bed causes an increase in metabolism and brain activity, and can be a potential trigger for nightmares. For example, it happens that nightmares occur after a heavy dinner and drinking alcohol. The body and the brain are connected: the stomach digests food, and the brain processes the information received from the stomach. Due to excessive stress on the brain, a person may have a nightmare.
Sometimes a person sees the same nightmares, and they repeat day after day. If nightmares become regular, interfere with life, and a person wakes up tired, this may be a symptom of a psychiatric illness. For example, people with depression sometimes have shallow sleep, their brains don’t get enough rest, and this can lead to nightmares.
Also, nightmares occur in case of sleep disorders, namely, insomnia. Nightmares are also often experienced by people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction – their normal sleep cycle is disturbed.
A recurring nightmare often indicates chronic diseases in the body, such as gastritis, migraine, neuralgia, and pain in the heart.
Trauma can also cause nightmares
Another common cause of nightmares is a traumatic event or post-traumatic stress disorder. Very often, nightmares are seen by women who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood or adulthood, as well as aggression from a partner.
Nightmares are rare in children under 5 years of age. Much more often, they appear in those who go to primary school. The children who have experienced a tragedy, such as the death of a family member, a close friend, or an acquaintance, are more likely to have nightmares than those who experience only the stress of school or everyday life.
How to prevent nightmares?
You can start fighting nightmares on your own. First of all, it is advisable not to eat one and a half to two hours before bedtime. An uncomfortable bed, poor ventilation, inappropriate light or sound in the bedroom are very often the reasons why people have nightmares in their dreams.
The bed should contribute to the correct position of the spine during sleep. Nightmares can be prevented by avoiding the use of a smartphone, computer and TV two hours before bedtime. It is also very important to wake up at the same time, ventilate the room before falling asleep, and properly prepare for sleep: relax, listen to music or read.
Features of nightmares
Nightmares occur during REM sleep. A nightmare often ends with a sharp awakening, and only after that a sense of space and time returns to the person. Usually such dreams have a very clear plot, with the sleeping person in the center.
Diagnosis and treatment of nightmares
While diagnosing nightmares, a clinical interview with the patient is first conducted in order to determine what is happening in their life and how they feel about it. Then the person is tested in the sleep laboratory to see the relationship between brain activity and external manifestations of sleep: how a person sleeps, how he moves in bed, how he wakes up.
This test shows which phases of sleep the patient has and whether he needs medical treatment. It also helps to properly organize psychotherapeutic treatment.
Nightmares themselves are diagnosed exclusively by clinical interviews However, in order to proceed with their treatment, it is necessary to identify their content. If a person starts taking sleeping pills in an attempt to get rid of nightmares, this can only exacerbate the problem. At the moment, there is no single sleeping pill that would provide a healthy, even and deep sleep.
Treatment tips: how to get rid of nightmares?
The most important component of the treatment of nightmares is psychotherapy. There are several therapeutic models for working with such dreams, for example, in the framework of cognitive behavioral therapy. All these techniques are similar to each other and are aimed at “replacing dreams”.
The fact is that we can give our brain a task, an indication of what we want to see in a dream. We are able to correct our dreams and influence their content. Dream replacement techniques are extremely effective. Usually, with the help of such techniques, nightmares can be eliminated within 2-3 sessions with a psychotherapist.
During a meeting with the patient, the specialist reveals the structure of the nightmare, its content, as well as the emotions that the patient is experiencing. Next, the patient is asked to rewrite the scenario of a nightmare and determine in which direction he would like to see its development.
After that, the brain is fixed on the new scenario and processes the information, “showing” the patient a new version of sleep. In cases of mental disorders, nightmares are also easy to treat as a symptom, but, unfortunately, this will not save the person from the disease itself.