Nightmares in Adults
Do nightmares plague your sleep and disturb your waking mood?
Although usually linked to children, nightmares are not unusual among adults. These vivid and terrifying dreams normally jolt the dreamer awake from the second half of the sleeping process known as the Rapid Eye Movement (REM). They often set the heart pounding from fear; the dreamer may also have symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, and they may have trouble falling back to sleep for fear of recurrence of another nightmare. Basically, in spite of modern science, nightmares are still very baffling and mysterious.
It’s true that science does offer some explanation of how nightmares relate to brain functioning.
The most comprehensive study of the phenomenon has cast a new light on the terrors that haunt people’s bedtime hours. According to the Psychologists at the University of Montreal, “there’s a gender gulf in the dark corners of the unconscious minds.” The unconscious is something one can’t notice, think about or even know about. When the unconscious invades one’s conscious life, it binds itself with everything he or she witnessed during the conscious life. People’s conscious lives are where their deepest secrets are kept. It is where their fears lie, and even some of their thought spontaneously get there.
Scientific research shows that adult nightmares may have very many causes. Sleep researchers have been able to find that nightmares in adults directly correlate with the stress and anxiety in their lives. The way a person handles and deals with stress can trigger nightmares. Nightmares are a normal response to unacceptable levels of fear and stress.
According to Tore Nielsen, director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal, “It is possible that something is actually going wrong in the brains of individuals who experience a lot of anxiety, so that normal emotional processing during dreaming fails.”
This actually makes a substantial amount of nous. To give it more context, in even more recent studies sleep researchers found that dreams help people process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them and that bizarre, vivid and emotionally intense dream are linked to parts of the amygdala (the fear center) and hippocampus of the brain.
Often, when one experiences a nightmare, the amygdala, or ‘fear center’ is over reactive and the mass of the hippocampus is typically decreased. This, therefore, explains the exact reason why it’s more difficult for the brain to use its sleep-time to process and diffuse trauma-based emotions. Instead, it releases these emotions by creating nightmares of them.
Science also relates the way people’s life is going and the larger society as a whole to nightmares. The way people perceive the world, natural disasters, relationships, health, finances, work, criticism about politics, crime in the streets and their inability to control such events may also lead to nightmares.
Latest studies on nightmares reveal that, unlike in children, nightmares in adults can really be very important resource for their self-knowledge and emotional discovery. Psychiatrists believe that nightmares convey important messages and help clear up the conflict in a person’s life. Professor Antonio Zadra, one of the world’s top dream researchers, advices that it is more valuable, therefore, for people to analyze their nightmares from an objective perspective and distance themselves from, and work-pass, the emotional content (anger, grief, fear, etc.) of their nightmares.
So what is it that can be done to help tame those raw emotions of repetitive, intrusive nightmares that won’t go away? Sleep experts favor a technique called Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT). IRT is a simple and non-drug approach that involves the sufferer re-imagining the dream, but changing something about it i.e. the dreamer coming up with an alternate, mastery outcome to the nightmare, mentally rehearsing that outcome awake, and then reminding themselves at bedtime that they wish this alternate outcome should the nightmare recur.
Research shows that IRT can reduce how often nightmares occur for those who suffer from distressing dreams on a regular basis to those who have nightmares related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
There isn’t adequate researches on the use of medicines to treat nightmares. However, the medicine with the most promise is prazosin, a prescription medication sold under the brand name of Minipress. It is, however, not commonly recommended due to its numerous side effects.