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Why we have nightmares

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

There can be several reasons for experiencing a nightmare.

There can be several reasons for experiencing a nightmare.

Nightmares have happened to most of us at one time or another. They wake you up suddenly with intense feelings of dread, fear or anxiety where those feelings linger for quite sometime after waking. Most individuals have a hard time falling back to sleep after experiencing a bad dream. In ancient civilizations, nightmares were thought to be evil spirits haunting us while we slept, but in this day and age we know more about why we have nightmares.

Although no one has all the answers to why we experience nightmares, several causes can attribute to these “night frights.” Before I get into the list of reasons for nightmares, here is a brief description of our sleep patterns and at what stage you can expect to have dreams or terrifying nightmares.

Stages of sleep

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The first stage of sleep lasts for just a few minutes. In this stage, you are merely drowsy and easily awaken. This is the stage before you drift off to sleep. (If you read yourself to sleep, this is where your eyelids start to droop and your head bobs).

With the next few stages, you fall into your deepest sleep and spend about 50% of your sleeping hours there. You are not easy to awake at this point. Your body temperature drops and your respiratory rate decreases.

The last stage is known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is the stage where you will either have dreams or the occasional nightmare. REM occurs in the latter part of the night just before waking which is why you frequently remember dreams.

Possible Causes for Why We Have Nightmares

Illness – If you are sick or feverish, this can disturb your normal sleep pattern and cause the bad dreams or nightmares. It is always best to take care of your health, watch your diet and get plenty of exercise.

Medication – If you experience nightmares with prescription medication, it is always best to discuss this with your doctor so the dosage or prescription can be changed.


Alcohol – Watch your alcohol intake before bedtime. Overindulge and bad dreams could come calling. 

Trauma – especially post traumatic stress – cannot only cause the occasional nightmare, but may cause recurrent nightmares. It is suggested that there are extremely painful emotions to deal with that the individual has not yet come to grip with.

Major life changes – which is actually stress related as well, but not always negative stress. A divorce, upcoming wedding, birth a child, or death of a parent or loved one are all stressful periods in our lives and may be why we have nightmares.

Heavy meals before bed – Our digestive systems can’t work properly when you eat a heavy meal before bed. Remember, that your heart rate and respiratory system slows when you are asleep, putting a strain on your digestive tract.

These helpful hints can give some insight into why we have nightmares. With good mental and physical health and plenty of rest, you can wake to good dreams and kiss the nightmares goodbye.


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