Why do we have nightmares and what are their causes? They are daydreams that cause us anxiety and a lot of fear, which in many cases cannot be avoided. We discover why.
We have all had nightmares. Sometimes we remember them as soon as we wake up or a few hours later. They can even startle us and cause us to wake up suddenly.
But at other times we may not remember anything; we only feel that we have had a strange or horrible dream because we wake up with an uncomfortable feeling, but nothing more.
For example, we find ourselves in the middle of a wonderful, restful sleep. We walked along a dirt road, lined with trees around. We listen to the sound of the birds and we feel calm, relaxed. But suddenly we see a wolf, which begins to chase us and we tend to keep running, fleeing. We move in bed, trying to run away and run. We screamed, and finally woke up with a start.
What is a nightmare?
This is probably an exemplified description of what we could define as a nightmare. In the words of the Royal Spanish Academy, a nightmare is an anguished and tenacious dream.
While the Dictionary defines it as a parasomnia that occurs during the REM phase, so, under physiological conditions, there are no vocalizations or body movements due to the muscular hypotonia of that phase of sleep.
In other words, a nightmare consists of a terrifying dream that causes fear or anxiety.
When do nightmares happen?
When we sleep, usually at night, we enter two different states of sleep. The first of these is known as “slow wave sleep” (NON-REM), a phase of sleep in which there is greater relaxation and a deeper rest occurs, which tends to last approximately 90 minutes.
After those 90 minutes we enter the dream in which there are rapid movements of the eyes, known as REM. It is during the REM sleep phase that most nightmares occur, with an estimated 4-6% occurring during the SWS phase.
However, when the nightmare occurs during NON-REM sleep it is known by the name of night terror, and on this occasion it is very common for people to not remember the content of these nightmares, only tending to wake up screaming or sweating.
Why do they occur?
In the opinion of many experts, most people have nightmares for one of the following reasons:
- Weak emotional state, with anxiety, nervousness or insecurity.
- The memory of an event that has caused a trauma, either consciously or subconsciously.
- Some external factor that the person is not aware of but his brain does detect.
We must bear in mind that nightmares tend to be much more common among the little ones, so that they tend to be less frequent when we are older, in adulthood. However, that does not mean that we do not have them: we can also experience occasional nightmares.
Among the causes that most commonly cause the appearance of nightmares, anxiety and stress stand out, as well as situations or experiences that have caused us a trauma ; for example, the death of a loved one, having survived an accident or catastrophe …
There are also other causes, such as excessive alcohol consumption or the alcohol withdrawal syndrome itself, sleep apnea (breathing disorder during sleep), diseases that cause high fever, certain sleep disorders or side effects of some drugs. Or medication.
On the other hand, did you know that eating just before going to bed is also another cause related to nightmares? The reason is found in that it increases both our body’s metabolism and brain activity, at a really inappropriate time.