Everyone has at some point in their life had a nightmare that caused them to wake up in a state of panic. I am no exception here, but perhaps the one nightmare that caused the most impact upon me was during the first week of October in 2007. It was early in the morning soon after sunrise and by the time I awoke rather abruptly, it was 7:30. I won’t go into my state of my reaction but I eventually fell asleep again for another half hour. What is relevant about the nightmare is that I was able to recount it in detail later on – something I can still do – and I decided to use this event to my advantage, weaving the incident into a story I wrote several months ago. Strange dreams, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to be nightmares but take on a surrealistic quality that can sometimes be pleasant and cathartic.
Sleep researchers have shown that dreams are based in the same part of the brain that is central to our emotions. For example, if someone dreams about a person very close to them who undergoes a severe trauma during that dream, or nightmare, as it is more properly called, the dreamer may wake up screaming and eventually crying, which is a perfectly normal reaction. Both nightmares and dreams occur during REM’s, or Rapid Eye Movements. REM sleep, as it is properly termed, generally occurs late during the sleeping time span, making it not unusual to have dreams that take place before waking hours, as my nightmare once did. Compared to what is called “deep sleep”, REM sleep is not the refreshing type of sleep because it is during this time which causes non-mobile physical actions to occur to the body: an accelerated heartbeat, sweating, intensified breathing. REM sleep can bring a sleeper out from a deep sleep, slowly bringing consciousness to the sleeper before waking up.(1)
Sleep researcher Michel Jouvet claims that our basic human instincts can be activated during a dream state while our state of sleep can prevent us from acting out on these instincts.(2) Such a theory definitely comes in handy, especially if the dreamer has the desire to see someone in a particular dream that he or she feels like obliterating.
Nightmares can also be the result of a person who has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In these cases, the person who is having the nightmares is contending with disturbing thoughts and emotions during his or her waking hour, caused by witnesses a major tragedy or loss. In these cases, the nightmare is a repeat of what actually happened to the person while awake. Of course, not all nightmares are the products of having PTSD and many people who do not have PTSD can still have nightmares. Persistent nightmares caused by PTSD can be treated through psychological and pharmaceutical methods for those who suffer routinely from the same nightmare.(3)
Thankfully, I have not had too many repeated nightmares in my life, and the one I had a year ago last October was one-of-a-kind. I was able to use it in a positive manner and I hope to have the story published soon.