IF you are someone who gets nightmares often, then you may be able to alleviate them – here’s what you need to know.
The study of dreams is a complex one, and there are still many things researchers don’t understand.
What are dreams?
Dreams are stories and images that our minds create while we sleep.
Every person on the planet experiences at least three to six dreams per night, with each dream lasting around 5 to 20 minutes, according to Medical News Today.
Dreams can be bizarre, romantic, whimsical, sexual, and in some cases, just plain scary – these are known as ‘nightmares’.
Why do we dream?
Sigmund Freud, one of the founding fathers of modern psychology, believed that dreams are a way for the mind to release repressed thoughts and feelings, as noted by Scientific American.
Today, however, researchers are divided on the subject – some think that dreams have no meaning, while others believe it’s the brain’s subconscious process for unpacking emotions or mental trauma.
Nightmares, specifically, are a topic that perplexes scientists, as they can not only be very confusing, but quite distressful.
Why do we have nightmares?
It’s hard to definitively say why people have nightmares, though we know they most often occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
And while scientists cannot pinpoint the exact cause, they have been able to link several factors to an increased likelihood of having scary dreams.
Such triggers include stress or anxiety, trauma, sleep deprivation, certain medication, drug misuse, and high consumption of scary books and movies, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In some instances, a person may have scary dreams so often that they are diagnosed with “Nightmare disorder”.
How can I stop having nightmares?
As far as scientists know, it’s impossible to completely eliminate nightmares.
However, there are several ways to treat bad dreams depending on the presumed cause, according to researchers at Harvard University.
“First, the cause of the stress, if there is one, must be determined. If a stressor is identified, effective ways to manage it should be found,” the researchers explained.
“For medication-induced nightmares, dosages might need to be altered or different drugs administered.”
Those with post-traumatic or chronic nightmares could benefit from seeking psychological therapy.
And, some studies have also found that people who suffer from nightmares might be able to alleviate their discomfort by changing their sleep position.
Specifically, an associate professor at Hong Kong Yan University, Calvin Kai-Ching Yu, PhD, found that people who sleep on their backs experience more nightmares and find it harder to remember their dreams.
“Different sleep positions may create pressure on different parts of the body, and body feelings may be the sources of dream elements,” Yu said.
Which side should I sleep on?
It’s advised that you sleep in the position that is most comfortable to you as you don’t want to disrupt your quality of slumber.
However, one study led by Dr. Mehmet Yucel Agargun at the YuZunCu Yil University found that people who sleep on their right side have dreams of safety and relief.
Meanwhile, sleeping on your left side may be connected to intense emotions and insecurity.
And if you’re a stomach sleeper, you may notice you have more erotic-type dreams.
Most common scary dreams
While nightmares are not fun to have, it may help to know that you’re not alone in experiencing scary dreams.
In fact, most nightmares people have, assuming they’re not trauma-induced, are very common.
One study which surveyed 2,000 people found that the most common nightmare is of falling.
A close second was being chased, followed by death, and feeling lost.
Coming in at fifth and sixth places are feeling trapped and being attacked.
Rounding out the top ten nightmares are missing an important event, waking up late, experiencing the passing of a loved one, and sustaining injury.