Nightmares Don’t Really Work

It always feels a little hocus-pocus talking about it, but I’ve been interested in dreams and nightmares since I had recurring ones featuring singer-songwriter and lovely curly hair owner Katie Melua while I was at university.

The main reason for taking an interest is that I buy in to the idea that dreams and nightmares are the brain processing events that have happened or might happen in the future, preparing the dreamer for what is to come.  This is especially interesting when it comes to nightmares rather than their fair weather counterparts, not least because some research has proved that it’s not actually true.

Some people are more prone to nightmares than others.  Nightmares are generally more prevalent in children, and adults will suffer the occasional nightmare too.

Studies have found that age, personality type, and trauma can influence the frequency of nightmares for dreamers.  However, one study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology actually found that nightmares were not tied to self-reported anxiety.

While this is the case, even “regular fears” (if such a thing exists) like spilling coffee or being in a car accident can trigger nightmares in the blind who have 4 times as many nightmares as those people with vision.  The suggestion is that it is actually personality type rather than external factors that make some more prone to bad dreams than others.

A New York Magazine video called The Good Side of Bad Dreams shows some sleep researchers suggest that bad dreams serve as a form of emotional release, allowing us to let go of the stresses and anxieties that plague us in our waking lives.

Essentially, the brain is turning those stressors in to memories, and memories are easier to cope with because, by their very nature, they refer to something that’s already happened and that we must have survived.  Also, because they’re in the past, they’re not in our lives now.

However, one Australian and one Canadian study actually find this not to be the case.

Australian researchers asked 624 high school students about their lives and nightmares during the past year and assessed their stress levels. It is well known that stressful experiences cause nightmares, but if night­mares serve to diffuse that tension, troubled sleepers should have an easier time coping with emotional ordeals. The study, published in the journal Dreaming, did not bear out that hypothesis: not only did nightmares not stave off anxiety, but people who reported being distressed about their dreams were even more likely to suffer from general anxiety than those who experienced an upsetting event such as the divorce of their parents.

Source: More Than Just a Bad Dream

The study in Canada backed up those findings.  A team led by Tore Nielsen, director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal, showed disturbing images to a group of healthy volunteers just before they went to bed.

The test subjects who were deprived of dream-filled REM sleep were less emotionally affected when shown the pictures again in the morning than those deprived of other sleep phases.  The cynic in me, who hasn’t read the study in full, suggests that those deprived of REM just wanted the researchers to go away so they could go back to bed!

So there you are.  Not only do nightmares suck, they don’t even work properly.

Hello there,
The angel from my nightmare,
The shadow in the background of the morgue.
The unsuspecting victim of darkness in the valley.
We can live like Jack and Sally
If we want.

Where you can always find me
And we’ll have Halloween on Christmas.
And in the night we’ll wish this never ends,
We’ll wish this never ends.

(I miss you, miss you)
(I miss you, miss you)

Where are you?
And I’m so sorry.
I cannot sleep, I cannot dream tonight.
I need somebody and always
This sick strange darkness
Comes creeping on so haunting every time.

And as I stared I counted
The webs from all the spiders
Catching things and eating their insides.

Like indecision to call you
And hear your voice of treason.
Will you come home and stop this pain tonight?
Stop this pain tonight.

Don’t waste your time on me.
You’re already the voice inside my head.
(I miss you, miss you)
Don’t waste your time on me.
You’re already the voice inside my head.
(I miss you, miss you)

I Miss You by Blink-182


Just a quick mention for the people of Nice and all those affected by what happened there last night, who must be living in their own real life nightmare at the moment.  My thoughts are with you.

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