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Having nightmares can happen to people of all ages, but it usually occurs more in children for various reasons. However, there’s a decent chance for adults to have disturbing nightmares. Your state of mind affects the context and content of your dreams just like they affect your waking life. It may be challenging to cope with particular circumstances when you feel exhausted, sad, stressed, or anxious, and these issues might manifest as bizarre dreams and dreadful nightmares.
You may also experience problems with your sleep during these phases. You may even have nightmares while awake while trying to avoid sleep because of the fear of having nightmares. In this article, we will try to understand how often these nightmares occur, what can you do if you experience them and if there’s a way to stop them.
What are the causes of nightmares?
Each person experiences nightmares while awake for different reasons. Stress, anxiety, and worry are a few of the leading causes, but some studies suggest that post-traumatic stress disorder affects nightmares significantly among other psychopathologies. For example, one study found that experiencing nightmares was associated with anxiety, paranoia, and decreased sleep duration.
Another main component that affects mental health is sleep. Quality of sleep is a valuable determinant of how well someone functions in their daily lives. In short, experiences and psychological states that adversely affect mental health also affect sleep. Sleep disturbances can also result in nightmares while sleeping or awake.
What happens when you have nightmares?
In nightmares, you experience more physical changes than in REM sleep, vivid dreams, and difficulty distinguishing dreams from reality. When people have nightmares, they often report emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, and sadness. At the same time, they convey the cycles of being unable to get out of an incident, screaming but not being able to hear it, or getting help.
Having nightmares while awake can be explained for various reasons. For example, in one particular study, two patients reported having nightmares in the form of flashbacks after surgery, and that is how they remembered their experiences of the surgery in their waking lives. In addition, the intense physiological and psychological effects of recent events may result in dreaming in waking life.
Also, sleep deprivation might cause hypnagogic hallucinations, which are involuntary and imagined experiences during the hypnagogic state. You may wonder what hypnagogia is if you’ve never encountered the term before. Hypnagogia is the transition state between wakefulness and sleep when even lucid dreams are possible.
“Staying in the moment” to avoid having nightmares while awake
As a result of your negative experiences, you may worry about the future or become obsessed with a past event. To deal with such situations, you can try to stay in the moment. Staying in the moment is a concept that expresses feeling in the present moment. It is a form of protection, especially against the potential unfavorable effects of traumatic experiences. You can try to stay in the moment with steps like these:
- By walking
- Spending time with an animal
- By interrupting communication with the screen
- By doing self-care
- Starting the day by taking good notes
- By paying attention to your sleeping hours
- Getting together with the people you love
- Keeping a dream journal
Stay in the moment with a dream journal
You may want to keep a dream journal of the nightmares you see in waking life and try to make sense of them separately. In particular, you take a good step by putting it into words instead of constantly remembering and thinking. An effective way to avoid anxiety-provoking thoughts is to write down your dreams in a dream journal.
Of course, you should first seek professional help to dive deep into the core of your problems and find a permanent solution. However, the above mentioned methods are supportive advice that may aid your recovery.