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Causes of Bad Dreams That Range from the Obvious to the Bizarre

Causes of Bad Dreams
Bad dreams, many a time, are the outcome of a disturbed mind. But there's more to this. Find that out in this PsycholoGenie article on the causes of bad dreams.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Do you remember getting up in the middle of a night, horrified? Do you remember getting up from bed frightened and recollecting having seen something terribly bad? It was possibly a bad dream! Bad dreams occur during REM sleep, that is, during the rapid eye movement sleep. They arouse feelings of intense terror or distress. Bad dreams are often lengthy and occur during the latter part of the night. During a bad dream, the person sleeping, usually experiences a feeling of having a threat to his life or safety. Bad dreams are common among children and the frequency of their occurrence decreases, as one grows older.
Bad dreams are caused by an unstable emotional state. If you are under great mental stress or pressure, you may have bad dreams. The reason for stress could be any; from the recent death of a near one to a setback in life. If you dream of failing in an exam or of being held up in an inescapable situation, that may be due to the stress you are undergoing during that period. A trauma, failure or frustration disturbs your mental state and feelings like these reflect in your dreams.
Bad dreams are lengthy and occur during REM sleep
Prolonged use of certain medications, by which I mean, being on medication for a long period of time may lead you to having bad dreams. Beta-blockers, tranquilizers and antidepressants could be a reason behind bad dreams. Also, recent withdrawal from sleeping pills may cause nightmares. They could also be a side effect of certain medicinal drugs. For example, drugs that are administered for Parkinson's disease are a cause of nightmares.
You may experience bad dreams because of low dopamine levels in the brain. Increasing the intake of vitamin B is one measure to restore them. And it goes without saying that you must consult a doctor to check whether reduced dopamine levels is the reason behind your bad dreams. What you eat just before your sleep has a major role to play in the quality of your sleep. Consumption of spicy or fatty foods just before going to sleep can cause bad dreams. Studies show that Atkins diet increases the chances of having unpleasant dreams. Atkins dieters have protein-rich, high-fat and low-carbohydrate foods. This is believed to increase metabolism and thus load the brain with greater work, causing bad dreams. Consumption of caffeine and other stimulants just before going to bed increases the chances of having unpleasant dreams. Consumption of alcohol or a sudden withdrawal from it may also lead to unpleasant dreams.
Foods that increase chance of having bad dreams
Ross Levin, a therapist treating nightmare disorders and insomnia, describes people having nightmares as being 'thin boundaried'. He has observed that such people are vulnerable to fantasies, are more inward-looking and often think negatively. People having high imaginative powers are at a greater risk of having nightmares. It has been observed that most bad dreams result from a trauma in the past. Crime victims and rape survivors are often found to have nightmares. Similarly, witnessing traumatic or horrifying incidents; for example witnessing a murder, seeing an accident taking place or the sight of blood can lead to a disturbed sleep and also horrifying dreams. Watching horror movies, reading ghost stories, or seeing/hearing about/reading anything scary, may cause nightmares, especially in children.
People at higher risk of having nightmares
Physical factors that contribute to bad dreams include fever as also sleep and breathing disorders. Sleep apnea (abnormal breathing during sleep) and Narcolepsy can cause unpleasant dreams. Sometimes, pregnant women are found to have bad dreams. To know why, read about bad dreams during pregnancy.
Nightmares should not be confused with night terrors. Night terrors often occur during the non-rapid eye movement sleep and people do not remember what they saw in their dream. One faces difficulty gaining full consciousness after a night terror. In case of a night terror, one feels the dread without having 'seen' anything in the dream. This differentiates night terrors from nightmares or bad dreams.
If you have a bad dream one night, don't panic over why you had it. Now that you know what causes bad dreams, think about the recent happenings in your life. Ask yourself if you have recently seen or read something scary. Ask yourself if you are eating the right food before going to sleep. Think for yourself if you are under stress and what's causing it. You might just find the cause of your unpleasant dreams there. Your dreams reflect your ambitions, your problems, your aspirations, your frustrations; they reflect you. The dreams you have at night depend on what you went through during the day. Many a time, your dreams are a reflection of what you think about life. So try to understand your dreams; they might be suggesting something... they might just be saying that you need to bring a positive change in your life.