What Causes Bad Dreams in Adults: 4 Plausible Theories

What Causes Bad Dreams in Adults
We'll discuss the details on what causes bad dreams in adults, and why these daily/recurring dreams have us in a cold sweat.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
No one likes to wake up from a good dream where the experience is so life-like; you may have seen a slim version of yourself, been with a man/woman you fantasize about, watched yourself doing something so unlike you, like a special ability, or kicked back in a penthouse you had no clue who owned. When you wake up you feel bewildered and completely out-of-place, where your surroundings suddenly come into sharp focus, and you realize that it was all a dream.
So how is it that the mind is able to piece together what lies within our conscious and subconscious minds, turning it into moving pictures while creating a whole other story using those elements? The mind is a fascinating organ, and one that no human can ever clone. A lot of external and internal factors play major roles when it comes to manipulating the mind to dream up stories, that not a lot of us can recall the next day.
They say that most of the time, we have dreams that we cannot recount 80% of the time. I'm sure you've woken up the next morning remembering the details of the dream, only to forget it in a couple of minutes. Sometimes, we realize later on in the day that, wait a minute, I did have a dream last night. You then try to piece it together, and make sense of it all, usually dismissing it as nothing. Nightmares as opposed to 'sweet' dreams, are horrifying dreams that we aren't prepared for, before we drift off to sleep. These can be quite terrifying, and can get anyone panicky.
Why Do Adults Have Nightmares?
There are certain influential factors, like I mentioned earlier, that can force your brain to conjure up a horrible dream.
Excess Alcohol/Withdrawal
When one is extremely fond of the bottle, he/she can have lucid dreams that aren't always pleasant to witness. Even those who give up on drinking alcohol, will notice how nightmares take up a lot of their nighttime sleep. It is better for those who want to get off the habit to gradually do so first, without completely cutting the body off from alcohol.
Phobias/Miscellaneous Fears
I have a fear of being stranded in the middle of the sea, or drowning for that matter. It has nothing to do with being fearful of water, but it is about what a lot of water can do that frightens me. Most of my dreams revolve around being lost at sea, or having to do something with a large water body. It can be scary in the dream itself, and is a complete relief when I wake up. Even my phobia of roaches comes to life in a dream, where I may be surrounded by them or outnumbered somehow by a whole gang of these creepy crawlies. Our minds will stow away these fears in our subconscious vaults, where these can seep into the flow of sleep, and lead to nightmares. It is better to confront your fears, and have them dealt with through a therapist, if the dreams occur too frequently and are too petrifying for you to handle.
Medication/Illnesses
Taking medication for an illness or even falling ill, can lead one to fall prey to a nightmare. Withdrawal even from a medication can cause one to have vivid dreams, including fevers which have been known to stir up nightmares (when the body's temperature rises, it can affect sleep). Those who are on sleeping pills will experience much deeper sleep than others, where their brain activity will be slightly peaked than ordinarily. Medication, just like alcohol, need to be slowly withdrawn from the system without a sudden halt in dosage.
Deadly Twins - Stress and Anxiety
Stress in everyday life is a given, and no one can really dodge the troubles they come with. Whether it is paying the rent/tax on time, or meeting a deadline, the body is suddenly under pressure, causing the mind to slowly feed off the stress. Nightmares become a common occurrence, where they can be quite vivid and alarming. It is important to de-stress the system by signing up for yoga, practicing meditation at home or going in for relaxing spa sessions. Solve ongoing problems and complete responsibilities on time, without rushing about for it last minute. The troubles of life, be it with kids, coworkers or friends, should be confronted and dealt with right then and there, without building all of that up. Whatever happens in your life, be it a breakup, a messy fight, a presentation gone bad, a traumatic event (accidents/losing loved ones) or whatever else that happens, can slowly turn into twisted storyline for our nightmares.
What causes bad dreams in adults can be helped if you were to first find the root cause of these nightmares from the above mentioned reasons. After you've acknowledged them, it is then time to sort through the clutter and make sure that you go to bed with a peaceful mind, and not one that is disturbed.