Are Nightmares Bad for You?
Many of us have had dreams where something or someone bad is chasing us, or we are falling to our death. Somehow, we wake up right before we are grabbed or hit the bottom.
This may sound a little cliché, but the experts who study nightmares actually say these are typical bad dream scenarios. Most nightmares include the threat of death, injury, or even annihilation, and you are trying to escape. If you have experienced some sort of traumatic event, it is very common to experience nightmares that rehash those events.
It may be surprising to know that nightmares come in variations. There are some instances when the setting or event may be innocent, but the emotions that you are feeling are terror, distress, or even disgust. This reason alone is why nightmares can pose a real health threat.
Nightmares can lead to stress and even insomnia. Another clinical nightmare disorder feature is the startling wake-up. It is the startling wake-up that usually separates nightmares from bad dreams. For those who have significant nightmares, it is common to avoid sleeping altogether to escape the nightmares. For many people, a nightmare can disrupt an entire night’s sleep.
Losing sleep can have massive implications for your health. Even poor sleep can cause a range of mental and physical health issues. Some of these include, but aren’t limited to, depression, heart disease and even suicide thoughts or attempts. People who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders tend to have more nightmares. However, research shows that if you treat a person’s nightmares, you can improve their health.
Research also shows that not all nightmares, even though they are scary, are bad. In many cases, these dreams may help the dreamer ameliorate some of their anxieties. Nightmares can actually help people learn to better manage stress. Our dreams reflect our current concerns and working through a bad dream with a therapist can actually improve daily life. The dreams are giving you insight into your emotions and fears.
Nightmares not only provide insight, they may also act as exposure therapy, which is considered the gold standard for treating many phobias. For example, if someone has a fear of an animal, exposure therapy may mean they spend some time with the animal and a counselor. Being able to confront the source of fear in a safe setting teaches the person to manage the phobia. Nightmares, in the same way, may allow a person’s brain to relive the event and move past it.
You may not want to confront your bogeyman, even during the day. But, when it comes to nightmares, facing the source of your fear is the best way to shrink it down to size.