Why do we Have Nightmares?Many people experience nightmares at some time during their life. They can cause anxiety and confusion as the disturbing images and events are often remembered when awake.

Nightmares happen during REM sleep. This is when sleep is lighter and accompanied by eye movement. They usually occur during the last half of a night’s sleep. The disturbing nature of the dream and the ‘lightness’ of the sleep state may cause the sufferer to wake up and be able to recall the drama and fear.

The dreamer may wake up suddenly and still be confused and fearful. Many people seek explanations for their dreams and there is a rich heritage of dream recall and their interpretations. It is often hard to fall asleep again after a nightmare. The mind may still be actively involved in the events that have caused fear and the sudden wakening. Recurrent Nightmares may make the sufferer fearful of falling asleep and cause anxiety and other sleep problems.

Content and Confusion

Dream Psychology seeks to interpret the meaning of dreams. Sigmund Freud published ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ in 1899 and believed that dreams were related to the subconscious repression of desires such as the sexual urge and the need for parental approval. Much of his work has been discredited but the relationship between anxiety and unresolved stress in daily life and the effect of this on the subconscious, is still considered to be one of the reasons for dreaming.

Carl Gustav Jung parted from this view of dreams being solely related to an individual’s personal experience and upbringing when he recognised that many people experience the same dream. This ‘collective unconsciousness’ suggests that there is a level of consciousness that is universal and explains why people from different ages, cultures and environment experience similar images and events.

Dream Interpretation has created explanations for many of the more common images and experiences. They can help explain and provide reassurance to those who feel that their experiences are the result of actions or thoughts from their ‘conscious’ mind.

Common Experiences

Some experts have suggested that some of the events in Anxiety Dreams are related to the REM Sleep State. In REM sleep the dreamer is prevented from ‘acting out’ the dream by the relaxed state of the body. Being unable to move the nightmare may contain images of immobility and helplessness. Other explanations include the connection between the conscious and unconscious mind. The nightmare is acting as an outlet for unresolved guilt, conflict and anxiety.

It has also been suggested that a nightmare is the way the unconscious mind reminds the conscious mind to deal with issues such as anxiety. By trying to interpret the meaning of the dream the experience becomes less threatening, and may even prove helpful in identifying and resolving previously unrecognised problems.

Many people find comfort and support in discussing their dreams with friends and family. The universal nature of nightmares means that many people have similar dreams and may be able to offer insight and understanding. There are a number of reference books on dream interpretation which explain the history of dreams and their meanings.

Relaxation and breathing techniques may help sufferers return to sleep after a distressing nightmare. Meditation can help access and explore other levels of consciousness. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may help sufferers deal with anxiety and other related sleep problems.