Dream Question: why do I have nightmares?

Note to the reader: This article looks at possible causes of nightmares, rather than trying to cover specific, individual dreams; you may find your dream covered – like dreaming of the death of a loved one – in my blog pages (more content is being added all the time). 

Dream question: “I keep having nightmares – I wake up sweating, my heart is pounding, the content is really graphic. Can you help?”

Delphi’s reply:

Dreams are often symbolic messages to draw our attention to a specific situation. Sometimes the only time we might remember a dream is by the horrific nature of their content.

Nightmares are bad dreams which can stay with us for hours, days or even years. They are often frightening, graphic and may cause you to wake up in a panic, crying or attempting to scream  – that’s really what separates them from other types of dreams.

Nightmares can be caused by a number of things. Lack of sleep, medication, bereavement, life-changing events, changes in diet and stress can all be a factor – even what you watch before you go to bed. Sometimes just a room being too hot may be enough to cause a a bad dream, which is why you wake up sweating (although this might also be a symptom of the flight /fight response when you’re feeling stressed).

If you’re having difficulties at work or at home, if there are unresolved issues around events from your past, or if you’re going through a difficult time, these can show up in the shape of a bad dream.

Nightmares can makes sure you we steps to acknowledge the ‘problem’; it’s a bit like the volume going up – the music is so loud you have to do something about it. Nightmares can make us pay attention to what’s really going on.

Seeking an interpretation can help to explore and decipher the message – this, in itself, has been known to stop the dream if it’s reoccurring. Talking to a professional can also help if you know what’s behind the nightmare.

If you are worried about the cause or effect of your nightmares, particularly if it’s affecting your sleep or mood, be sure to speak to your doctor as soon as possible.  Lucid dreaming has been suggested as one technique which may help with nightmares in the right circumstances. 

Old Hag Syndrome is the feeling of a presence in the room – is a common experience which feels like a nightmare.  This is often accompanied with a feeling of paralysis – that you can’t move, or shout out. (Or if you do manage to speak it’s a “strange” sound). It can also be accompanied with a feeling of pressure on the chest.  The paralysis should only last a few minutes but it does feel scary.   It can also feel like a dream within a dream – where there are many “levels” to the dream, you think you’ve woken up then realise you haven’t (a bit like what happens in the movie Inception).

This could be a symptom of stress, or sleep deprivation.  

Have a chat with your doctor if it’s worrying you, but also make sure you’re winding down before bedtime and managing stress as much as possible.  You may find this page on sleep helpful.

Please read the important information at the bottom of this page before leaving a comment or question.

Published by Delphi Ellis

Therapeutic counsellor, well-being trainer and author working with grief and mental health, helping people get their sparkle back. Explores dreams on telly. Avid tea drinker. © Delphi Ellis - Helping You Sparkle™ 2006 - 21

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