What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (2023)

What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (1)

For thousands of years, both dreams and nightmares have been of central interest to humans. Very often, dreams and nightmares have been interpreted as a transfer of information between the spirit realm and the human world.

In Mesopotamia (c. 3100 BC)dreams and nightmaresThey were seen as messages from the gods and prophecies about the future. The practice of dream interpretation was often translated into official documents and held an important place in many aspects of culture and daily life.

About 5,000 years or 1,825,000 days later and we figured it all out, right?


In fact, many people would say that we still see dreams the same way our ancestors did. Many popular artists use their dreams as a bridge between their deepest thoughts and the real and tangible.What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (2)Welt.include examplesThe album El Cielo de Dredg, Inception by Christopher Nolan and even the perseverance of Salvador Dalí's time, which seems to have sprung more from a nightmare than a dream.

Human sleep is a black box. We've uncovered a lot of knowledge about it over the past few years, but there are some things that continue to amaze people and will take many years to fully understand.

In short, it's a nightmare.


Nightmares fill a huge gap in the science of sleep. Scientists are still unsure why nightmares occur and what their evolutionary purpose is. However, some progress has been made in answering this difficult question and I will share the knowledge with you in this post.

Despite all of this, sleep science has managed to identify various activities and practices that cause nightmares in adults. This article provides some tips to avoid nightmares and explains how they work.

But first, let's make sure we're all talking about the same thing here.

what is a nightmare

In short, a nightmare is any dream that causes a person to experience negative emotions upon waking up. These emotions can include sadness, fear, pain, anger, and the like.

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Nightmares are often associated with children and adolescents. However, these aren't the only groups that have frequent nightmares. It is estimated that approx50% of adultsexperience nightmares from time to time. Among adults, a research study found that women actuallyexperience more nightmaresThese men.

Many people are affected by recurring nightmares. This can lead to trouble sleeping, sleep deprivation, and even sleep anxiety; All of these can have a healing effect on a person's physical and mental well-being.

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The word "Nightmare" comes from the Old English word "mare", which is believed to refer to a mythological demon that torments people with horrific dreams. Added the night part to highlight the fact that this is happening while you are sleeping.

About 80% of the time, nightmares occur during sleep.REM sleep stageof the sleep cycle. If you wake up during REM sleep and have a nightmare, you can probably easily remember most of the details.

Nightmares are basically low quality horror movies.

The contents of our nightmares and dreams are believed to have no boundaries or order. People can have nightmares about anything. They often involve crazy and illogical scenarios that make you feel strong negative emotions as you go through them.

However, the bizarreness and impossibility of nightmares doesn't stop them from feeling less real. You may have Santa Claus dressed as a clown chasing you with a pitchfork in a high-speed chase across the Pacific, and at this point it would be hard to tell there was anything wrong with this image.

What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (4)

Although many examples of nightmares (like this one) may sound crazy, they are often normal reactions to stress and other troubling events that have occurred in a person's life. Many people experience certain nightmares in a strikingly similar way. To go into more detail, you can read more about itThe 7 most common nightmareseach experienced and its meaning.

If everyone has nightmares, what's the problem?

As with everything else in life, too much of anything is bad.

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Having a nightmare here and there is nothing to worry about. In fact, it can be a sign that your body is working on itCleaning debris and cellular debrisof the brain Recurring nightmares, on the other hand, are a sign that something needs to change. In most cases, addressing the source of the nightmares is the best way to stop them.

What Causes Nightmares in Adults?

1. Psychological triggers

  • Examples are depression, stress and anxiety.

Nightmares are often psychological in origin, meaning they often occur because of a mental disorder. Although, as we shall see, they can also be caused by the use of certain medications and other factors.

Many scientists believe that nightmares, and dreams in general, are a side effect of brain activity at night. One theory is that while you are asleep, your brain is trying to put into some sort of logical order what you were experiencing while you were awake."Story". This story is ultimately what we experience as a dream.

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If you spend much of your waking time feeling stressed, anxious, or anxious, your subconscious may be trying to deal with it by stitching those experiences together into a not-so-pleasant story.

What if it's a gift?

Interestingly oneStudy from 2002found evidence that nightmares may actually serve as another stress-coping mechanism in the body. The study looked at 412 college students and assessed the associations between frequency of nightmares, stressors, social support, and coping. The researchers were able to conclude that there is a positive correlation between nightmares and stress management.

Although nightmares can be a way to deal with stress, regular nightmares can wreak havoc on your sleep and lead to health problems.

2. Major traumatic experiences

Experiencing traumatic events is another major cause of nightmares. One study looked at the frequency of nightmares in children and found that children who had experienced a death in the family or who knew someone with a chronic illness were more likely to be affectedwith frequent nightmaresthan those who have none.

The traumatic experience can come in many shapes and forms. Experiencing a serious car accident can induce nightmares in which you are reliving the car accident. Similar phenomena have been reported bysuffering veteransfrom PTSD.

These nightmares can be particularly emotionally draining and difficult to deal with. They can be addressed with coping methods similar to those used to combat stress-induced nightmares.

3. Drug side effects

Drugs that affect the nervous systemsuch as sleeping pills, antidepressants, and narcotics are also associated with a higher incidence of nightmares. They can also cause other sleep problems like insomnia or REM cycle problems.What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (6)

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If you've just started having nightmares after starting a new medication, it may be a good idea to have the medication screened for side effects. If the drug is really causing the nightmares, your doctor may be able to help you stop the nightmares by finding an alternative drug or lowering the dose to a lower level.

4. Drug Withdrawal

People suffering from drug withdrawal report having very vivid nightmares and dreams. Nightmares tend to involve scenarios that evoke feelings of hopelessness, terror, and extreme anxiety.

What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (7)

People going through drug withdrawal are more likely to experience these nightmares early in the withdrawal period. In some cases, patients do not experience nightmares per se, but rathervery intense dreamsthat feel indistinguishable from reality.

This increased incidence of nightmares and intense dreams is due to the use of many narcotics and other medicationsSuppress REM sleep. Once the withdrawal period begins and your body is allowed to return to its normal REM sleep rhythm, experienceREM rebound sleep.Suddenly your body gets hit with longer REM cycles and you start having more dreams.

5. Eat right before bed

Contrary to some claims on the internet, sleep science hasno consensus yet reachedon the connection between dreams and eating before going to bed. Some people report having nightmares when eating a large meal before bed, but many others report having no such disturbances after eating.

One reason people can have nightmares after a big late night meal is that your body remains in a heightened state of metabolic activity immediately after eating. This means that you are in overdrive and most active during the REM phase. As you will remember from my postREM sleep, more activity during REM is associated with more dreaming.

Regardless of the final verdict, one thing is very clear: eating before bed negatively affects and causes sleepsymptoms of insomnia. Refraining from eating late at night is one of the most important practicesGood sleep hygieneand also avoid gaining weight from unhealthy snacking.

6. Sleep Deprivation

That's a bit of an oxymoron, thoughIt's very true.Skipping sleep can make your REM cycle longer and more intense the next time you sleep.What Causes Nightmares in Adults and How to Stop Them (8)

Longer REM cycles lead to more dreams and nightmares due to a phenomenon calledREM-Rückprallwhere the body tries to make up for the REM sleep lost in previous nights by increasing the length of the REM cycle.

Ultimately, more REM sleep = more dreams.

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Combined with the other causes on this list, lack of sleep can lead to some pretty uncomfortable nightmares.

The key to stopping nightmares in adults

Although nightmares can be a painful experience, you enjoy them, as do many otherssleep disorders, can be stopped completely.

The first step to ending nightmares is to identify the source of the nightmares.

Once you've achieved this, you can start addressing the root of the problem instead of just treating the symptoms. As explained above, nightmares are often caused by psychological stress. Consider some of the following stressors and consider whether they apply to you:

  • A traumatic experience from the past that may be buried inside
  • death of a loved one
  • Unspoken sources of anger
  • Sources of anxiety in your daily life
  • Important but neglected tasks

If you find yourself struggling with one or more of the items listed above, working with a therapist can help you address those stressors and subsequently eliminate the nightmares.

For such cases, a tried and true nightmare treatment technique you can start using tonightImaging Trial Therapy (IRT). IRT is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique. It works like this:

  1. Take some time to remember the full story of the nightmare. Try to remember as many details as possible, like characters, locations, weather, and anything else you can remember.
  2. Write the nightmare down on a piece of paper or on the computer. Here's the trick, when you rewrite the nightmare, change the outcome and plot into something positive. Change the elements of the nightmare that cause emotional distress.
  3. Read it and examine it in your mind. This helps turn the mental perception of the nightmare into a positive one.

IRT has been studied and shown to workseveral scientific publications. A trained therapist can guide you through this process and help you identify which elements to focus on.

The solution to your nightmares may be simpler than you thought

If your nightmares are caused by the side effects of prescription drugs, the solution may be as simple as switching the drug to another drug or stopping its use altogether.

See your doctor if you think your current medication is causing nightmares. Depending on the case, he can change it or recommend an alternative treatment.

Your essential shield against nightmares

Whether the cause of your nightmares is psychological or more tangible, one of the most important things you can do to stop the uncomfortable effects of nightmares is to follow proper sleep hygiene.

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Sleep hygiene encompasses all of the different habits that allow you to get the best possible sleep. These habits include sleeping in a cold room, avoiding using electronic devices before bed, and skipping heavy meals at night. Check out our free sleep hygiene fact sheet for some best practices for getting a good night's sleep.

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I hope this article was useful to you. Feel free to share it with someone you know who might be having nightmares or who wants to know more about it.

stay rested



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