Nightmares are easily the most terrifying part of sleeping, and the reason many children are afraid of it. Even adults wake up from nightmares sweating and unsettled. Perhaps the most terrifying part is you cannot control them; you don’t know when they’ll haunt you and you have no way of truly avoiding them. You wake up from a nightmare wondering where these images come from, and struggle to fall back asleep after the fear of the nightmare has subsided.

woman stressed

The dreams that we have will likely never cease to amaze us; our mind’s ability to create different worlds while we snooze have always been sources of inspiration. That being said, it is on those nights when we wake up overwhelmed with feelings of terror, that we are reminded of what our minds are truly capable of imagining. When you experience bad dreams night after night, it can create an overwhelming sense of anxiety when going to bed. This can, most certainly, disrupt sleep. Whether it is dreams of falling, or dreams of the most ghoulish scenes, waking up suddenly with an unnerving fear can really ruin your chances of getting quality sleep.

When explained, nightmares are described as dreams that create feelings of fear, distress, terror, and anxiety. Usually, these dreams are unpleasantly vivid and. Due to the intensity of these dreams, they generally cause the sleeper to jolt awake. This immediately disrupts your sleep, not to mention it usually resulting in alertness that makes falling back asleep more difficult.

During the Rapid Eye Movement phase of sleep, your muscles become paralysed and your brain heads off to dreamland. It is during this phase that you are most susceptible to nightmares.

For more information on the sleep cycle, click here.

Studies show that children and teenagers experience more nightmares than adults. However, as an adult reading this, I’m sure you have had your fair share of terrifying nightmares.

While we know little about sleep and why we dream, it is generally considered that dreams come from the subconscious mind as it attempts to sort through the day’s memories. The things that we learn during the day become ingrained in the brain while we sleep. This is why rest is so crucial when you are studying. What turns a dream into a nightmare is not known, although some say that it is daytime activities. Perhaps the things we read and see during the day come back to haunt us later on.


Your brain never really rests during sleep in the same way that your body does. In fact, your brain can use equal amounts of energy while asleep and awake. It organizes and stores away important information that was gathered during the day, allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed.

Even your new bed is not going to prevent nightmares from happening. But there are other ways to combat bad dreams. And identifying a cause is always a good place to start. 

Sleep scientists might not know the exact cause of nightmares, but they have pinpointed a few of those factors that might contribute to your bad dreams. Fever, and even eating right before bed, are thought to be a cause of nightmares. Sleeping in an uncomfortable position may well also be a contributing factor.

In some severe cases, nightmares can become a chronic condition that can easily lead to insomnia. This may require medical treatment.

What Causes Nightmares?

girl lying in a dark room

Although scientists have been trying to pinpoint the causes of nightmares, the results are generally inconclusive. For some people, it is a traumatic event or post-traumatic stress disorder that leaves them experiencing bad dreams. For others, it could be temperature fluctuations during sleep

Here are a few of the reasons why you could be having nightmares:

  • Depression
  • Indigestion
  • Certain medications and drugs
  • Traumatic events and other unpleasant past experiences
  • Your environment not being the right temperature
  • Things you see in the media and throughout the day

Some of the most common nightmares include falling, being paralyzed (the sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis is also responsible for night time terrors) being late for something, death, and being chased. Your waking life plays the biggest role in the frequency, as well as the theme, of your nightmares.

New Research:

Everyone will experience a nightmare at one point or another during their lifetime. Researchers have now uncovered a new cause: Too much sleep!

Believe it or not, there really is such a thing as oversleeping. In this case, we’re not talking about those who sleep once in while to catch up. Instead, we are talking about those who get enough sleep but choose to snooze a little more night after night.

man holding his face

The University of Oxford was the first to dig a little deeper into nightmares by conducting an in-depth study on its underlying causes. They selected 846 participants from the general population and asked them to do an online survey. The researchers then had the participants tell them about their last two weeks of sleep and then asked them to rate their nightmares. They also gathered data about what was going on in the lives of the participants which could have contributed to the occurrence of nightmares.

Some of the results showed a correlation between being concerned about the future and having nightmares. This wasn’t a big surprise they uncovered. It has already been proven that stress can trigger nightmares.

Those who had nightmares were also more likely to continue being worried well into the next day. Carrying this stress over makes the day a lot more exhausting, especially when you’re sleep deprived.

Unexpectedly, researchers found that those who were sleeping for more than 9 hours each night were more likely to have nightmares. Those who sleep longer are up to 40% more likely to experience sleep interrupted by nightmares.

Chronic Nightmares:

For those who suffer from chronic nightmares, sleep can be something you dread, instead of something you look forward to. Having chronic nightmares interrupt your nights consistently, can cause you to attempt to stop yourself from falling asleep. Unfortunately, there is only so much time that you can go without sleep before the negative effects set in. Weight gain and moodiness will be the least of your problems when you’re suffering from sleep deprivation brought on by nightmares.

girl holding her had

While there is nothing unusual about the occasional bad dream, chronic nightmares are a whole different story. These are the kind of nightly dreams that leave you feeling fatigued day after day. Together with stress and fatigue, they become the perfect recipe for anxiety and depression.

Sleeping pills are not always a reliable solution when experiencing chronic nightmares. Therefore, most people are forced to look beyond that and instead rely on psychotherapy or behavioural techniques. The only techniques that have been shown to reduce, and eventually put a stop to, chronic nightmares are treatments for insomnia.

For more about insomnia and how you can stop it, click here.

Take Control of Your Nightmares by Using These 3 Steps:

You might not need to go as far as seeking out professional help. Simply make these 3 steps work to your advantage. If you find yourself suffering from seemingly endless nightmares, try this:

scary room
  1. Write down what it is that you dreamed about; this will help you to separate the dream from reality.
  2. Once the dream is out there, try to think of the ways that you would change the dream. Do this by using your intuition.
  3. For the next few days, set time aside to think about the changed version of your dream. Keep that picture in your mind.

Some people fin this works very well for them. For others, it might not be the best way forward. What matters most is that you find the way to live without the nightmares invading your day to day life. Should you find that you are not ridding yourself of bad dreams, consult your doctor.


For 5 ways to put a stop to the constant nightmares, click here.