Think of a time when you woke up in the middle of the night, soaking in sweat, shaking with fear, and feeling your heart in the mouth. Yes! If you have been there, you know nightmares are no fun. They are absolute terror.
And it’s understandable that you might be having nightmares recently, the meanings of which you have no clue about and this is how you stumbled upon this article.
Even a person with sound mental health can seldom have their dreams turn into dark, vivid, and terrifying images, interrupting their sleep. Sadly, some people find it extremely difficult to fall asleep, once they wake up from a nightmare.
It is absolutely natural to have nightmares now and then. Many children have nightmares but they generally stop between the age of 9 to 11 years but if the nightmares keep disturbing your sleep past that age, you might as well be having them for the rest of your life. Interestingly, children have more nightmares than adults. About 10-50% of the children have them while only a mere 2.5-10% of the adults have them.
What causes nightmares?
Nightmares can have their sources in trauma, physical illness, stress and anxiety, or psychopathology. Both the prevalence of nightmares and the relation between nightmares and measures of psychopathology have been extensively studied.
Some other causes of nightmares according to research are:
- Hyperarousal & impaired fear extinction
- Childhood adversity
- Psychiatric disorders
- Medication and substance abuse
- Lack of proper sleep
- Exposure to disturbing fiction & scary movies, books etc before bed
How is a nightmare different from dreams?
Dreams are images and sensations created by our subconscious mind with the help of the information we perceive in our waking life. Unlike nightmares, dreams are not only imageries that have a horrific or fear-evoking element in it.
Dreams can be soothing, based on wish-fulfillment, fun, romantic, and sometimes bizarre, disturbing or frightening. Some dreams will actually leave you grinning when you wake up, wishing to go back to sleep to complete it.
A nightmare, on the other hand, has an aversive nature – no one really feels gratified, pleased or pacified after experiencing a nightmare.
Hartmann (1984) defined a nightmare as a long, frightening dream that awakens the sleeper, and awakening from a frightening dream has been used as an operational definition of nightmares by others. (1) Some of the researchers believe that nightmares are categorically an individual experience and hence is better left for the participants to describe.
Nightmares come in different forms and shapes having very distinct themes, contexts, feel, and varying vividness. Your Nightmares might surprisingly be trying to hint you at something you have been long ignoring.
Analyzing the meaning of nightmares is not too difficult when you know the key themes and compare them with your current life incidents.
Here’re 10 common nightmares and what they might mean for you.
Once you go back and retrospect, you will realize they are simply reflecting your life and what you are currently going through.
Often you might dream of drowning in some deep water body; it could either be you slipping deeper into the depths of water by yourself or it might be someone trying to drown you in the water with force while you struggle to get out of it.
Drowning nightmares will characteristically occur when a person is going through an emotionally overwhelming phase of life. A person who has nightmares of drowning might be having some repressed or badly regulated emotions – related to work, career, contemporary relationships, family or friends, which need to be addressed and resolved.
These are the thoughts or feelings that need to be processed and heard in conscious life.