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Sleep is meant to be relaxing, but it’s everything but when we’re suffering a nightmare. Whether we’re being scared by a fictitious monster or mourning the death of a dreamt loved one, nightmares sap our vitality rather than replenish it. So, why do we have nightmares? What are nightmares psychology? What can we do to lessen their intensity or frequency?
Psychological Definition of Nightmares
In order to understand the psychology of nightmares, we can check the formal definition. Nightmares, according to psychologists, are dreams that provoke “fear, anxiety, or grief.” (1) They happen during the “rapid eye movement” REM stage of sleep, usually later in the night, and wake the person up; common nightmares themes include falling, losing one’s teeth, and being unprepared for an exam. However, the psychology behind nightmares goes further.
What Do Nightmares Mean in Psychology?
Dreams are our brain’s method of arranging the events of the day, memories, and visuals into vivid, symbolic, and nonsensical tales. Nightmares psychology, in particular, are psychology of dreams that are often associated with unresolved anxiety or trauma that our brain has not completely processed.
According to research, nightmares are often associated with unfulfilled psychological demands and/or displeasure with life situations. (2) However, making such connections isn’t always easy—except in the instance of trauma, our dreams tend to metaphorically portray our problems rather than literally. A person struggling with a difficult move, for example, could dream about falling off a cliff or being late for an important occasion rather than the relocation itself. Similarly, two persons may have identical dreams, but for quite different reasons. Because of these differences, determining a single, unambiguous “meaning” for our dreams may be challenging.
How to Reduce Nightmares
Although there is no one-size-fits-all therapy for terrible dreams, therapists have devised activities to help patients minimize the frequency and intensity of their nightmares.
Research advocates using soothing tactics like deep, diaphragmatic breathing, which activates the vagus nerve, to receive relief from nightmares (3). Inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts, and then exhaling for 8 counts is a beneficial breathing method that you can often utilize. This action is subsequently repeated two more times. When used just before going to bed, this strategy may be quite beneficial.
In order to reduce the number of your nightmares and understand your subconscious, you may try keeping a dream journal. Dreambook App is the best digital dream journal that you can keep with yourself at all times. Try it now as it is free and easy to use!