Nightmares are not uncommon. Most of us experience them, and even though they occasionally appear, there is no need to worry. However, if bad dreams frequently trouble us, they can have a real impact on our health. What are they and how can we get rid of nightmares?
WHAT ARE NIGHTMARES?
Nightmares are nothing more than dreams that occur during the REM phase (this phase is characterized by high brain activity, rapid eye movement, or low-level muscle activity) that cause fear in humans. Their content varies – some are about danger from which we try to escape, others concern deteriorating health, changes in appearance (such as dreams of hair loss or tooth loss), and others are about traumatic events from the past.
In many cases, the realistic nature of the dream contributes to the onset of strong emotions – fear, terror, or anger. Often, these feelings do not disappear immediately after waking up and accompany the person throughout the day.
Nightmares significantly affect the quality of sleep. They often wake a person up, and then the person has trouble falling back to sleep. The above-mentioned strong emotions are felt immediately after waking up. In addition, the person does not feel rested. In extreme cases, such dreams can even lead to symptoms of insomnia.
THE IMPACT OF NIGHTMARES ON HEALTH
If nightmares occur only occasionally, it should not be a problem for a person, but if they occur regularly, it is a problem. This is because bad dreams lead to overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol. Due to the regular release of its excess, the function of the immune system may be weakened.
Fortunately, nightmares can be effectively prevented. However, the cause of their occurrence must be determined first.
Nightmares can occur in everyone, but statistical data shows that their frequency is related to a person’s age. It is estimated that bad dreams affect up to 90% of humanity, with the highest number occurring in children aged 3-5 years (nightmares affect up to 50% of children). Nightmares become less frequent with increasing age, and adults experience them at least once a week. However, there are times when frequent nightmares also appear in adulthood.
Bad dreams can be caused by chronic stress. Among other causes of nightmares is PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder caused by traumatic events. Nightmares often accompany significant changes in life, such as moving, changing schools, changing or losing a job, or the death of a loved one. Any of these events can lead to the development of strong stress, which eventually turns into bad dreams.
NIGHTMARES – HOW TO GET RID OF THEM?
Nightmares can be effectively treated. In many cases, it is enough to change bad habits that disrupt sleep hygiene.
It is important to go to bed and wake up at the same time, not only on working days but also on weekends and holidays. Before bedtime, avoid heavy and fatty foods, alcohol, and other psychoactive substances, but drink half a glass of water immediately before bed. Many people consider the bed a universal place. This is a mistake because its role should be limited only to sleeping. Eating, listening to music, watching TV, playing video games, reading – all of this should be crossed off the list of things we do in bed.
If increased attention to sleep hygiene does not work (nightmares still return), a detailed examination will be necessary. In most cases, the medical interview itself proves to be a sufficient diagnostic tool, during which a specialist can detect abnormalities that affect sleep quality. In rarer cases, a polysomnographic examination is performed.