Terror-Filled Nightmares Can Be Averted if Specific ‘Trigger’ Factors Ruled Out, Research Claims
Dreams – the images that our minds generate while we sleep – have always been a mystery for scientists probing how and why these at times disturbing and even frightening phenomena occur. Some theories suggest dreams represent our unconscious desires, while others dismiss them as just part of the sleep cycle.
For someone whose dreams more often tend to turn into tormenting nightmares, there may be hope of alleviating them, scientists claim.
A set of studies have been able to link several factors to an increased likelihood of having ‘scary’ dreams, lending hope that there might be a way to ward them off.
The study of dreams, those often larger-than-life, bizarre stories and images that invade our sleep, is a complex one, with diverse theories suggesting how and why we experience them. Every person experiences at least three to six dreams lasting around 5 to 20 minutes per night, according to scientists. But the scary ones, nightmares, plague some more than others.
23 May 2022, 00:07 GMT
Researchers are divided on the subject of whether dreams are a way of releasing the brain’s subconscious, ‘unpacking’ emotions or mental trauma, or are no more than part of the sleep cycle.
But what has definitely been determined is that nightmares most often occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
This last stage of the five phases of sleep in a cycle is when breathing becomes more rapid, and shallow, eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, heart rate increases, and blood pressure rises.
It is when people awaken during REM sleep – accounting for 20 to 25 percent of total sleep time - that they often describe bizarre dreams.
It is during that time that specific triggers such as stress, anxiety, trauma, sleep deprivation, use of specific medication, drug misuse, and overdose of scary books and movies, may profoundly affect one’s sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic in the US.
Researchers at Harvard University agree, saying there are specific ways that “nightmare disorder” can be deal with.
“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 Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute researchers explained in 2015.
“For medication-induced nightmares, dosages might need to be altered or different drugs administered,” they added. As for individuals suffering from post-traumatic or chronic nightmares, the team suggested they could seek psychological therapy.
Another study has claimed that such a factor as sleep position could also weigh in. Associate professor at Hong Kong Yan University, Calvin Kai-Ching Yu, PhD, discovered that people who sleep on their backs experience more nightmares, but 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.
People who sleep on their right side tend to luxuriate in dreams of safety and relief, claimed another study, led by Dr. Mehmet Yucel Agargun at the YuZunCu Yil University, Turkey. Meanwhile, sleeping on your left side could trigger intense emotions and insecurity.
As for those who prefer to sleep on their stomach, studies have suggested they experience more erotic dreams.
While it is difficult to find someone who hasn’t experienced nightmares at some point, there appear to be specific types of scary dreams that occur more often.
According to one US survey conducted in 2021, 2,000 people claimed that the most common nightmare they experienced was that of falling. A sense of being chased by someone came second, followed by death and a feeling of being lost. Feeling trapped and being attacked ended up in fifth and sixth places on the list.