A distressing dream that forces an individual to partially awaken from his sleep is called a nightmare. Many people do not understand the difference between nightmares and night terrors. You see, these two types of distressing dreams occur during different stages of sleep. During the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, one may visualize a night terror. The person may scream and thrash about in bed. Nightmares, on the other hand, occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. One rarely remembers the nightmare clearly and does not scream or thrash about in the bed. One just recollects nightmares as a bad dream and remembers none of the facts related to it.
Knowing all this makes one want to know the causes of nightmares. The following section answers this question.
What Causes Nightmares?
Dream anxiety disorder, nightmare disorder, or nightmare is a repetitive dream that makes the sleeper feel frightened and threatened. The person is so scared to death that he may wake up from his sleep. These nightmares are a bit long in duration and cause intense fear. The person dreaming about a nightmare feels that he may die or will be killed by someone. The person generally wakes up at the climax of the nightmare before the dream completes. When the person wakes up, he maybe sweating and develops a 'heart in throat' feeling. The heart beats rapidly and he suffers from anxiety. He maybe able to recall the nightmare and what frightened him the most. Once the person realizes it was just a dream and he is safe and sound, he may calm down and fall asleep again. There are different causes of nightmares that may awaken a person from his sleep.
The bogeyman is the most common cause of nightmares in children. On a serious note, there are many causes of distressing dreams in children. It is a normal part of their growing years, and children tend to develop fear of things they do not understand. Monsters and ogres, spiders and insects, anything can cause fear in their innocent minds. Let us have a look at some of the causes in children.
- Fear of a new school
- Preexisting illness or fever
- Conflicts between parents
- Misinterpretation of an overheard adult conversation
- Separation anxiety
- Traumatic incidence in life, like the loss of a loved grandparent, parent, or maybe a pet
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Watching too many violent or horror movies or scenes
- Side effects of medications like decongestants, antidepressants, antihistamines, etc.
- Peer pressure, being bullied at school
- Fear of darkness, unknown sounds, etc.
- Stress due to parent separation, etc.
Adolescence is an age when all things go topsy-turvy. This is an age that is plagued with confusion, rebelliousness, puberty, school pressure, and parental pressure. Teens are bogged down with many issues that they are not mature enough to comprehend. Their biological clock is ticking away and their erratic lifestyle causes more problems. Hence, many teens suffer from different types of nightmares. Some of the causes of this situation in teenagers are discussed below:
- Sleep deprivation or erratic sleeping pattern
- Insomnia due to stress, illness, excessive traveling, and medications
- Sleep apnea where breathing stops for a brief time.
- Narcolepsy where the teenager falls asleep suddenly without control while driving, swimming, studying, etc.
- Late-night eating before going to bed may cause increase in metabolism that sends signals to the brain to move.
- Drug withdrawal after using prescription drugs and narcotics may trigger nightmares.
Studies have found that men and women suffer from different kinds of nightmares. Men are more likely to dream about being fired from their job or a violent situation. Women would have dreams about being sexually assaulted, death of a loved one, losing their hair, or becoming unattractive. However, both dream of failing in exams even if they are not students anymore. Causes of nightmares in women include the following:
- Depression or sleep medications, and some over-the-counter drugs and medications are suspected to be the cause of this situation.
- Pregnant women are more likely to have pleasant as well as distressing dreams. This is because they are undergoing hormonal changes that send signals to their brain. They will dream about losing their baby due to miscarriage, delivering abnormal children, or giving birth to an animal. They may even have nightmares about the impending responsibility of having a child.
- Excess of vitamin B6 in the body can lead to neurological disorders like nightmares.
- Hypoglycemia may also cause such dreams in women.
- Illnesses like fever, flu, apnea, etc., may cause such a situation.
- Use of narcotic drugs may also be one of the causes.
- Women who are going through post-traumatic stress disorder may also have distressing dreams.
- Loss of loved ones like spouse, parent, or child can be a possible reason for this condition
Unlike small children, adults have different causes of nightmares. It can be due to a physical illness or some kind of mental stress. Eating a late-night snack sends impulses to brain resulting in creation of vivid dreams. Fear of being sacked at workplace, a childhood fear, traumatic brain injury, financial problems, phobia, emotional disturbances, sleep disorders, family issues, etc., all relate to distressing dreams in adults.
Nightmares usually occur during the second half of the sleep and one is able to remember the dream to some extent, but not the exact incidents that occur in it, though.