What Causes Nightmares and Bad Dreams?
There can’t be many people who can say that they have never had a nightmare or bad dream. They can be caused by a variety of things connected to your waking life. Often we will wake up feeling frightened and anxious. We might even feel that we are completely alone. Usually, we will have our first nightmare as a child and it has been proved that children will have had their first nightmare by the age of 12.
Quite often stress in our waking lives will cause nightmares as will traumatic events. It isn’t a completely awful thing to have a nightmare or bad dream particularly if we repress our feelings in waking life. Nightmares allow us to work through anxiety and fear.
However, it isn’t impossible to stop these dreams from happening or to deal with them if we do have them. In this article, we will be taking a look at the different causes of nightmares and we’ll give you some tips on how to stop them.
Understanding the Type of Dream is Key
Of course, there are many types of dreams; those that make us feel happy and hopeful and those that make us feel the complete opposite. All types of dreams give us a chance to process what our day has been when we were awake. Sometimes they help to work out our feelings about certain events and people.Other times, they can frighten us.
Some dreams may make us feel scared, such as dreams about death or losing our teeth, but they are not always a bad sign. Dreaming of death doesn’t mean that you or a person close to you is going to die. Instead, it means that you are going to have a new start in some aspect of your life. To dream about losing teeth can mean you are depressed, or it can simply mean that you have simply said something you wish you hadn’t. It gives you a chance to rectify the matter.
Occasionally dreams can foretell the future, but these are rare. Most of the time dreams relate to our waking life in the present.
In most cases, nightmares give you a release from the stress of the day. They help you to work out your feelings. Once you have got over the initial fear and anxiety, write the dream down in a dream journal so you can study the nightmare and see how it relates to your waking life.
You are most likely to have a nightmare if you have had a stressful day. If you aren’t feeling stressed with life or you have had a nice day, it is more likely that you won’t have bad dreams. In fact, you could have very pleasant dreams.
Stress & Difficult Emotions as a Cause for Nightmares
Nightmares can be isolated incidents or they can be recurring. If you only occassionaly have bad dreams, you should take a look at what has happened that day. If you realize that you have been stressed, it is easy to understand why you have had a nightmare. If your dream is recurring, you should study your dream journal to see how many times you have had this dream and how you were feeling in waking life. This makes it easier to see patterns and trends. Sometimes, however, it is impossible to understand the meaning of a dream which and this can be frustrating.
One of the main reasons for having nightmares is because we have feelings that we are trying to repress. We might be able to push these emotions out of sight during the day, but at night we can’t avoid what your subconscious is telling you.
Many people who have nightmares are unable to face up to their emotions or to any stress they are under. They feel unable to cope with their problems.The nightmares can easily continue until they are able to accept their feelings, fears, and anxieties. They will need to find a way to accept what is happening in their lives so that the bad dreams can stop.
Stress and emotions are the main cause of nightmares, but there are other reasons and we’ll take a look at them here.
Nightmares Caused by Traumatic Events
Perhaps you have experienced a traumatic event. You may be in a car crash, perhaps someone close has died, you might be a soldier in a war zone, or you nearly drowned in a boating accident. If anything traumatic has happened to you, it won’t be surprising if you have bad dreams about the incident. They can be very scary, reflecting the fear you felt in your waking life. It also isn’t surprising if these dreams are recurring. You may even relive each step of the incident, especially if you have been the victim of a violent attack. You must also have heard of post traumatic disorder that many military personnel suffer from. They can relive the details of combat and often they need psyhciatric help. A psychiatrist can help them to work through the traumatic event They might even need medication, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. A combination of psychiatric help and medication can help to stop the nightmares.
Sometimes the traumatic event won’t be obvious. You could just have had a series of negative events in your life that have built up until you feel you can’t cope. Because of this, the actions in your bad dreams may not have any resemblance to the events in your life so you need to look at the symbols in the dream. It is a good idea to keep a dream journal and see if anything happens the same in your dreams.
Physical Causes for Nightmares
You may not have thought of this, but it is possible that there is a physical cause for your nightmares. They could occur because you have been taking certain medications or if you have come off medication too quickly. There could be environmental issues affecting you. Perhaps you have SAD which is Seasonal Affective Disorder. It means that you get depressed during the winter months when there is little sun and the days are short. Alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs can also cause nightmares as can illness. Perhaps you use natural products like essential oils and herbal drugs. Even they can cause bad dreams.
Vitamin deficiency is another reason why you might have nightmares. A lack of magnesium can make it difficult to sleep and to be in pain. When you do finally drop off, you can easily have a nightmare. Lack of B12 can also lead to a bad dream.
Everybody is different. What makes one person have nightmares can be completely different to another person’s. While somebody can have no ill effects from taking a certain medication, another can react badly both physically and mentally leading to bad dreams. The same goes for traumatic events. Some people can accept what has happened and move on while others can’t. Both their waking and sleeping lives can be affected.
Stopping the Cycles of Fear
If you have a lot of nightmares it can lead to you becoming afraid of having more bad dreams. It’s a vicious cycle. Recurring bad dreams can reflect our thought processes as well as our feelings.
It is possible to stop this cycle of nightmares if you try to interpret your dreams and relate them to your waking life. It is helpful if you find a way to release the emotions and fears you have in daily life. Even talking to a friend about your nightmares can help you to open up.
We are now going to take a look in detail about how you can stop these bad dreams.
How You Can Stop Having Nightmares
We have told you about some of the underlying causes of bad dreams. Once you have come to terms with why you are having these dreams, it is time to find out possible ways to stop them.
Nightmares are more difficult to interpret than are happy dreams because they can bring up bad memories and emotions we have tried to suppress. Some people can be so traumatized that they feel it’s all too much. Some may even try to self-harm. If you feel like this then you should seek help. If you can’t face talking to someone face to face, there are hotlines which help people with suicidal thoughts.
If you want to work through your dreams on your own, it is a good idea to follow a step-by-step plan. You can take as little or as much time as you feel is necessary for you.
Step 1: Begin by Trying to Understand Your Dreams
The first thing to do is to try and understand what your dream meant. It is a good idea to keep a dream journal by the side of your bed so that you can write down everything that happened in the dream as soon as you wake up. You will remember most things at that time as the details fade very quickly.
You could have a dream about a traumatic event that has happened and that has caused your nightmare, but more likely it won’t be. The events, people, and objects in dreams are usually metaphors and symbols for your feelings and things that are happening in your waking life. For example, you may dream about being beheaded. This can mean that you feel as if you are being treated badly by someone important in your life. If you dream that you are drowning, it could mean that you feel overwhelmed by events. Perhaps you have too much on your plate and don’t know how you can cope. If you dream that you wreck a car, it can indicate that you don’t have control over something going on in your life. Perhaps you are being overlooked for promotion, but can’t seem to do anything to achieve your goals. This is when a good dream dictionary comes in useful. You can either buy a book or look up your dreams on the internet. There is so much information out there that you are bound to find it useful when trying to interpret your dreams.
Step 2: Understand and Release Your Feelings
Once you have a good idea what the dreams were about, it is time to examine your feelings. If you are a down-to-earth person, you might find this difficult. Other people who wear their hearts on their sleeve may find this easier, although if the feelings are negative it can still be difficult to accept the way you react.
If you try and repress your emotions, they will still be there in the back of your mind. It is best to let them out and try to work through them. Only then can you move on. If we take an example from waking life, it might be easier to understand. Perhaps a close family member has died and you have repressed your emotions. It is time to work through them and let them out. It is time to cry and only then can you move on. Holding on to the past doesn’t allow us to enjoy the present. Yes, you will always feel sad if someone has died, but the time will come when you can think of them with happy memories.
Writing down your emotions and feelings can help you to work through this. Another good idea is to burn these pages when you have finished working out the way you feel, This action can give you a release from these feelings. It is important to keep telling yourself that you are freeing yourself from these feelings.
If you don’t enjoy writing as a form of expression, try some other form of artistic release. Perhaps paint or draw the way you feel. If you can play a musical instrument, that can also be a release. Physical exercise can also help.
Step 3: Follow a Healthy Bedtime Routine
Start preparing yourself for bed a couple of hours before you actually retire for the night. This may sound strange, but if you can follow certain rules, you are more likely to get a good night’s sleep. Take these precautions –
- Don’t drink coffee during the evening and try to avoid a big meal.
- Don\t work on your computer 1 – 2 hours before you go to bed.
- Avoid the news and TV shows that show too much violence.
- Reduce the amount of light in your bedroom.
- Look after yourself during the day. Take the time to eat nutritious meals and have some exercise.
Do You Have a Hard Time Falling Asleep at Night?: It is quite common to worry in the evening. The events of the day can be going around your head and if they have been negative, it is easy to have a bad dream. An idea to overcome this is to write down your feelings and try to analyze what happened. Sometimes just writing things down can make you feel less stressed. Maybe they won\t seem quite so bad when written down.
Say Your Prayers: If you are a religious or spiritual person, just saying a simple prayer before bed can ease your mind.
Meditate & Use Visualization: Perhaps you have never meditated. If not it might be of assistance. Meditation calms you down and this can be an advantage before going to bed. If you can get rid of your negative feelings it will be less likely that you will have a bad dream. Perhaps sign up with a meditation group which will guide you.
It isn’t easy to get into a daily routine, but it is worth it. Not only will it give you a good night’s sleep, but it will also help you to cope with stress in your waking life.
Step 4: Explore Additional Resources for Understanding Nightmares and Dreams
If you follow these steps and still have bad dreams, you may feel at a loss. You have interpreted the dream and got to grips with your feelings and emotions, but the nightmares still continue. It could be that you are in a particularly stressful situation which you see no way out of. On the other hand, there could be other reasons causing your bad dreams, but you are unable to figure out what they might be. Here we’ll give you some ideas which might prove to be the cause of the dreams.
Rule Out Medical Causes: If you are on certain medications, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if they have side effects. If they do, perhaps he or she can recommend another drug for your condition that doesn’t have the same side effects. Perhaps visit an alternative health practitioner to see if you can try a natural remedy. If you have physical symptoms of an illness that you haven’t seen a doctor for, now is the time to do it. Constant worry about your health can cause nightmares.
Improve Your Nutrition: We all know that we should eat a healthy and balanced diet, but, particularly if we are busy,we often neglect to take care of ourselves. We should eat a balanced menu of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, together with vitamins and minerals. Junk food should just be an occasional treat. If we eat properly, we can expect to have a better night’s sleep. Eating too many sweets or greasy foods before bed is not advised. They alone could give you bad dreams. However, each of us is different and we need to listen to our bodies. We know that if we eat too much we can feel bloated, but what is too much for one person might not be enough for another.
Learn to Trust Your Intuition: Some people think of intuition as being a mystical power, but we all have it. How many times have we done something even though we have felt that we shouldn’t, only to come unstuck? Intuition is the ability to sense and understand something without any explanation. We should use this to help us interpret our dreams.
Reduce Your Stress & Find a Balance in Life: Life can be stressful. We all know this and it doesn’t do either our mental or physical health any good. Stress can give us a bad night’s sleep which in turn can result in bad dreams. We need to accept challenges as a way to improve us as people. We have to keep calm and enjoy these challenges.
You need to examine what it is that is causing you to be stressed and then think of ways to reduce this stress. Try and let go of these aspects of your life. If you are unhappy with your job and dread going to work each day, perhaps it is time to look for another job. If you are in a miserable marriage, maybe now is the time to walk away. If you seem to be working all the time, try and find a healthy balance between work and play. If we do all these things, we should be able to better enjoy life and as a result, not have so many bad dreams.
Keep a Regular Journal: We have talked about keeping a dream journal. Why not also keep a waking journal. Don’t write what you bought at the store or that you drove your children to school. Instead, write down all your thoughts and feelings during the day and then compare them to how you felt in your dreams. This is a good way to process your emotions and to accept them. Doing this and going to bed with a clear head can stop nightmares. Your subconscious won’t need to send you messages through dreams and nightmares. You will be able to figure out what is going on in your life in a much easier way.
Learn How to Become Lucid in Dream: To some people lucid dreaming (see also Our Guide To Lucid Dreaming) comes naturally, to others, not so much. Perhaps you aren’t sure exactly what lucid dreaming is. It is a type of dream in which you are aware and conscious during a dream while sleeping. It can be a little like an out-of-body experience. The advantage of lucid dreaming is that it makes you capable of often changing the dream around. Perhaps you are being chased by a monster in a dream. You should be able to change the dream around to where you are chasing the monster. Maybe you are drowning out at sea and feel there is no hope. In this case, you can make a boat arrive to save you. Another advantage of lucid dreaming is that you can quite often make yourself wake up and therefore escape from the bad situation.
Explore Science: There are many different types of science including physics, biology, and chemistry. Scientists believe that they can prove almost anything. They generally don’t believe in the spiritual world and dispute the fact that the world was created by God in 6 days. However, even if you are religious, it can be interesting to study science as there is so much to explore. Many scientists believe that dreams are no more than electrical impulses and if we think of them as such, our nightmares have little meaning. We need not be afraid of them anymore.
Explore Spirituality: To the opposite of science, we have spirituality. This doesn’t mean that we can’t believe in both although dreams probably have more of a connection with spirituality. Perhaps we may dream about our loved ones who have passed. Spiritualists say that it can really be the dead person speaking to us especially if it is a lucid dream. Perhaps we feel afraid, but there’s no need as our loved ones don’t want to do us any harm. Maybe we should listen to the Buddhist religion which says that ‘life is but a dream’. There is plenty we can learn about our dreams if we discover more about spirituality. It is a belief in the unknown and what are dreams if not this.
To sum up, it is possible to prevent nightmares and bad dreams. Perhaps this seems like a mammoth task but take it one step at a time. The most important thing to do first is get that dream journal (see also Dream Interpretation Guide) and put it by the side of your bed so that you can write in it as soon as you wake up. Perhaps study it every week and see if there are any recurring themes and symbols. Write a day journal as well and see how similar the thoughts and feelings are to your dream journal. Work out if you think it is stress, a traumatic event, or a physical cause that has triggered the nightmare. Once you have done this, try to understand the dreams and then release your feelings. Don’t keep them bottled up. Then follow a healthy bedtime routine as we have mentioned. This may seem to be a difficult process, but if you can manage it, your life should become more positive and the nightmares should stop.