Every one of us knows them: nightmares. Fear is spreading and horrible sceneries develop in front of the inner eye. The heart beats faster. Suddenly you wake up and are glad that it just has been a dream.
Nightmares belong to the so-called parasomnias. Here, the sleep is disturbed by events or processes like sleep walking or pavor nocturnus, for example.
What happens during a nightmare?
During dreaming the heart- and breathing-frequency increase resp. fluctuate. The person dreaming awakens and is able to remember the experienced emotions and pictures. Nightmares often include acute risk of death, risk for losing self-worth or for the own safety. Children often dream that they are persecuted. In about half of the nightmares the sleeping person dies, flee, suffer serious injuries or fall into a bottomless abyss. Men often are the threatening persons. During the dream emotions like grief, anger and sensations of pain may occur besides of fear.
Types of nightmares
- Unpleasant dreams (dysphoric dreams)
- Bad dreams (without waking up)
- Nightmares (including waking up)
- Post-traumatic nightmares and flashbacks (after an experienced trauma like for example natural disaster or war). A flashback is a sudden und imaginative re-experience of the trauma.
When do nightmares occur?
Nightmares occur especially during the second half of the night during a long phase of REM-sleep. During REM-sleep the sleep is only superficial but the body is very relaxed.
Who is affected by nightmares?
Nightmares often occur when someone had a traumatic experience or during burdening and stressful circumstances.
In the age from six to ten years nightmares occur more frequently. But also adults might suffer under nightmares. Different studies show that about 5 % of the participants suffer under recurring nightmares, whereby women are more concerned than men.
Having a nightmare once in while is not unusual. Only, when nightmares occur frequently and lead to a psychological strain and to sleep disturbances they might impair health.
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