Why Do We Experience Nightmares Or Night Terrors?

August 30, 2011

You may be enjoying your foam bed, happy and completely satisfied with the comfort it gives you. Externally, the atmosphere suits you perfectly, and your body’s needs are well-catered to by the excellent support it gives your back and neck. However, you aren’t exempted from those who experience nightmares. I’m well convinced that most people experience nightmares at night. In simple terms, a nightmare is a bad dream that makes you experience feelings of anxiety, fear, or sorrow during and a bit after the dream even after you wake up as long as you still remember it.

Why do you experience nightmares?

It’s an unpleasant thing to experience, that’s why you wish each other “sweet dreams” before you sleep. But why do you go through it? Well, you experience it due to a number of causes. I’ll classify them into two groups: physical and psychological.

Starting with the physical causes, it can happen from something as simple as an unsuitable sleeping position. Some people tend to have nightmares by sleeping with their back against the bed. The explanation of this is that the air passageways become obstructed by a muscular structure found at the back of the mouth as it becomes too relaxed to hold itself up. This causes that person to wake up all of a sudden, gasping for air. It can also be the reason why the person may think that he’s drowning in his nightmare. Other physical factors that cause nightmares are fevers, or a sudden adjustment in medications. A sudden withdrawal from medications or an introduction of a new medication to the patient may cause nightmares. Another avoidable cause of nightmares, aside from sleeping on your back, is sleeping right after eating. Why? Since your stomach is digesting food, your metabolism increases along with brain activity.

While there are quite a number of physical causes, there’s only mainly one psychological reason – stress. Anxiety or any kind of fear somehow related to stress will cause nightmares because your mind is not at ease. You tend to over-think things during the daytime, and it manifests during the night when your brain is stimulated in the form of nightmares.

Around 2 out of 100 adults experience night terrors

What are night terrors and what causes them?

Night terrors are not to be confused with nightmares. Night terrors are a more dramatic and violent version nightmares. In nightmares, you’d only suddenly wake up, perhaps sweaty, gasping for air with a racing heartbeat at most. But night terrors are characterized mostly by that person’s sitting upright on the bed, hysterical screaming, and even the thrashing of arms and legs. From the dreamer’s point of view, bits and pieces of a nightmare can be remembered even when that person has woken up already. Though a night terror is more violent than a nightmare, that person can not remember the episode of the night terror which he just had because he has been asleep during, and even after the episode where he goes back to sleep.

Night terrors are most common in children ages 3 to 12, but it also happens during adolescence and adulthood when the symptoms are more extreme and can even involve that person’s running outside the house hysterically. Generally, night terrors are caused by an arousal in the central nervous system. It usually happens to children because this part of their body is still maturing. However, some people who have night terrors share some characteristics in certain fields. Some of them are related to someone who sleepwalks, most of them are stressed or ill, and some of them are taking a new medication. These causes bring about night terrors.

Nightmares and night terrors may seem really frightening, but never lose hope. If you suffer from nightmares night after night, don’t despair because knowing what causes them is the first step to overcoming them. And if they do persist, it is better to consult a doctor or therapist. Although you can never be 100% sure you will be immune to nightmares as you lay your head on the pillow, you can always do your best to avoid them.