This week, I had to redefine my own classification of the word ‘nightmare’.
In the past, I’ve had disturbing dreams, or dreams where scary or undesirable things happened. Plenty of them. In the past I’d have called those nightmares, easily.
Some of them, I would wake up crying, or shaken, or feel deeply perturbed by the memory of these dreams. There have even been some which ended up plaguing me for the rest of the day, casting a shadow over everything I did.
Some of them have actually stayed with me since I was a teenager. I remain adamant that one in particular, a Victorian period horror, is still a very good premise for a novel that I may still get around to writing one day. (It could actually be a decent graphic novel, now I’m doing the Arting thing).
A particularly disturbing dream
I recently dreamt about the death of an old friend, and lying in their arms as they gasped their final breath (disturbing enough, right?), said friend vanished leaving me lying on the bed alone.
Then, out of nowhere, everything changed and a terrifying, blurred out and extremely speedy entity with sharp teeth and an image full of malevolence started dashing towards me across the dark room, pulling away all the covers from me and muttering strange words as it darted around all over the place.
I was sure it was going to hurt me. I tried to scream, but couldn’t.
Imagine a Jack Frost-type character, stuck in a blurred out box which seemingly moved in broken up frames, rapidly jumping from one place to another across the room, which one set target; you.
It was realistic, it was frightening, and I woke up with my heart racing. I don’t remember ever waking up from a dream so terrified before. To be honest, I was too scared to get up to go to the toilet, just in case I wasn’t actually awake yet and had to endure more of the same.
I eventually had to ask my partner (who was getting up in 10 minutes anyway) to turn on the bedside light for me.
Now, surely if anything was a nightmare, that was. And it got me thinking… why do we have nightmares in the first place? Where do they come from?
Where do nightmares come from?
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, only two to eight per cent of the adult population suffer from nightmares, which is actually pretty good odds. And if what I had was an actual nightmare – putting the rest of my disturbing dreams to shame – then that seems about right.
Professional dream analyst and author, Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, highlights it’s important to look at dreaming as merely a continued thinking process from events that have occurred during the day.
Here’s what she said to Medical Daily on the matter:
“The nightmare is when we are thinking about difficult issues during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and trying to sort them out. We often try to ignore our difficult issues with distractions during the day but when we are asleep and are forced to be alone in our own heads, these difficult issues will be addressed.”
Bit disappointing when you think about it like that, isn’t it? It’s hardly the kind of thing Stephen King readers like myself tend to think of first when something terrifying disturbs your dreams. And in this instance, it felt like it had actually invaded by normal dream, changing the atmosphere entirely.
So, could it just signify I’m scared of death? After all, my friend seemed to die, and then whatever it was decided to come for me. Hmmmm.
In my opinion, I’ve always seemed a bit too accepting of my own death. I’d like to think when faced with a serious illness, I’d put up an equally serious fight, but when I’m on a plane thousands of miles in the sky, I end up thinking: “Well, if this is it, then I suppose I’ve at least had a nice holiday.”
But I digress.
Could the culprit be something entirely mundane?
What is the actual cause of nightmares? Is it down to traumatic events, anxiety and depression, the food we eat, sleep apnea, or a manifestation of things we’ve buried in our subconscious minds?
Perhaps it’s something else entirely.
According to holistic health practitioner Carol Wasserman, it could even be down to unknown allergies.
Here’s what she had to say on this interesting theory:
“For example, if you have an allergy to peaches, but are not aware, you could be getting nightmares, and once you stop eating peach ice cream at night, the nightmares stop.”
Seem a bit hard to swallow? Carol went on to use herself as an example:
“Every time I ate shrimp I had a restless night and bad dreams. So I stopped the shrimp and now I sleep peacefully.”
Another study suggests it could also have a lot to do with your age, personality type and any recent trauma you’ve experienced; with college students being particularly susceptible. In fact, 47% of the students studied had a nightmare within the same two-week period.
Makes me wonder exactly how they were classifying nightmares, though.
Most nightmares also seem to evolve around things like death and murder, however these things aren’t always so clear-cut as they might seem.
Most of the evidence seems to suggest that in order to get a better grasp of our nightmares, we should take more time to understand and process the issues bothering us during the day – or work out what we’re eating before we have disturbing dreams!
Curious, how do you define your nightmares? Have you had something like this that’s scared the hell out of you? If so, I’d love to hear from you.