There are a lot of reasons a person might have a nightmare. They may come from consuming certain substances, exhaustion, malnutrition, or emotional problems. Whatever the case may be, you end up with a bad night’s sleep.
Things get more complicated when they turn into recurring nightmares. Sometimes the same dream comes up again and again. Other times the context changes, but the overall structure is basically identical. These are the situations where it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening in the dreams.
Ordinary nightmares and recurring nightmares
Ordinary nightmares are bad dreams that only pop up occasionally. The usual rule is that having a nightmare every three months is within the range of what we might call “normal.” In these cases, each nightmare will be about something different than the other ones.
Causes of ordinary nightmares include:
- High but temporary stress.
- Consumption of alcohol.
- Use of psychoactive substances.
- Consumption of certain kinds of medication with sleep-related side effects.
- Frequent inability to sleep that leads to fatigue.
- Eating too late at night or eating too much before going to sleep.
To control this type of nightmare, you have to control the root cause. It’s important to do this because if you don’t, your nightmares might start affecting your sleep. It’s best to eat on the early side and avoid consuming alcohol or other substances at least two hours before you go to sleep.
Recurring nightmares, on the other hand, come up when a person doesn’t confront some conflict they have in real life. It might be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder or having difficulty accepting something. Because it goes on in the subconscious realm, it may end up coming out in the form of nightmares.
What nightmares are usually about
There are some recurring nightmares that are about very normal things. They have to do with typical human conflicts, although they might mean something different to different individuals.
Usually recurring nightmares are about:
- Persecution or being chased. This represents having trouble accepting part of yourself that, unconsciously, you see as dark or terrible.
- Falling. This one demonstrates a fear of being abandoned or having no support.
- Extreme speed. Feeling like you have no control.
- Exams. This nightmare is related to failing, being late, or being unprepared. It suggests a lack of confidence in yourself and situations that you’re in or will be in soon.
- Paralysis. Related to a feeling of being stuck, not having real goals, and having difficulty expressing your emotions.
- Nudity. People generally dream about being naked in public without other people noticing. It has to do with being insecure about some aspect of their lives, feeling overwhelmed and incapable.
- Amputation. These are dreams where you lose your teeth, an arm, a leg, etc. They’re dealing with a part of life that you’ve ignored or haven’t given enough attention to.
- Being trapped. Related to aspects of life that are repressed or blocked.
- Drowning. There are generally huge waves or stormy waters. This kind has to do with an overflow of emotions that you aren’t able to express or can’t recognize.
- A demanding baby or baby animal. This is about some aspect of your childhood, or a vulnerable part of your personality, that needs attention.
Even though recurring nightmares are uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying, you should actually see them as a positive, valuable thing. It’s your subconscious’ way of sending you a message about some issue you haven’t paid attention to. It’s saying it’s time to deal with it.
Ideally, recurring nightmares will help you find some kind of solution to your inner conflict. If you do find a solution, you’ll usually have a similar dream, but with a good ending.
Images courtesy of Douglas Girard