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The meaning behind dreams, nightmares and night terrors

During dreaming sleep, our brain is very much active, similar to when the body is awake. The areas of the brain most active during dreams are those involved in visual imagery which explains why dreams tend to be quite vivid and emotionally full. The area of the brain involved in self-awareness and control execution often has lower activity levels during sleep which proves why we often have no control on our dreams.

Dreaming can often be connected to learning, creative thinking, and memory consolidation and organisation. Some intellects suggest that dreams occur to prepare us for risky or dangerous situations we may come across in the future.

Preferred sleeping positions very much affect the types of dreams experienced and how lucid they appear. Findings have shown that most stomach sleepers recall their dreams as more vivid, erotic and intense. This is more than likely due to the fact of increased physical pressure on certain body parts.

Does everyone dream?

It is assumed that every human dreams a little every night. Though we often may not recall dreaming, it is a part of a certain type of sleep that occurs every time we dose off.

As we dream our eyeballs are in fact moving around rapidly, whilst most of our other muscles are essentially paralysed. During our dreaming sleep, if not all muscles are paralysed, behaviour disorder can occur. This is when the body failed to induce muscle paralysis and the individual, in turn, acts out the dream. This is not to be confused with sleep walking, which only occurs during our deepest sleep.

Adults are recorded to spend between a fifth and a quarter of their overall sleep time in dream sleep. Individuals are likely to remember their dreams only if they wake in the middle of one or just after one.

Nightmares

For many people dreams can be a pleasant experience. However, for some, nightmares can become a recurring problem that continues to disrupt their sleep, causing individuals to become fatigued and less cognitively stimulated. If this is an often occurrence, waking up can often seem as detached from real time and space. To avoid this, it is useful to try re-orienting yourself and describing your surroundings aloud. Grounding oneself in the present can reduce feelings of fear and anxiety associated with the dream.

If you experience recurring nightmares, it is suggested to write down the details of the unpleasant experiences the day after they occur, and alter the situation to make it less frightening. Sometimes, visualising your altered dream throughout the day can actually re-image the dream all together and reduce the frequency and intensity of the nightmare.

Night terrors

Night terrors are often thought to be linked to over-tiredness and sleep deprivation. They can also be heavily associated with feelings of stress, worry and excitement.

Night terrors unlike nightmares occur during deep sleep and usually only last up to 15 minutes. Night terrors are most common in children under the age of 10 years, although they can still occur in older children and adults. They often appear to individual who seem awake, with their eyes open, body movements and slight speech occurs. However, they are in truth, deeply asleep. For children experiencing a night terror, many symptoms arise. They may often scream, thrash about, sit upright and seem to be in an inconsolable state, not able to recognise anything or anyone in the space around them. Individuals can become greatly distressed and shaken if forced awake, so it is advised not to wake someone experiencing a night terror unless they seem at harm to themselves or someone else.

Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is described by the inability to move one’s body. It also has associations with visual hallucinations, the hearing of sounds and voices that are not real. Paralysis often occurs just before falling into a deep sleep or during the waking stage. Although a harmless occurrence, it can provoke heightened feelings of anxiety as individuals realise they are unable to move.

As with night terrors, sleep paralysis is more common if you are sleep deprived or during periods of increased stress.

One easy way to prevent the onset of such lucid dreams is to ensure the right amount of sleep is gained every night. Most of these types of dreams are caused by fatigue and stress. So try to manage stress and anxiety levels as best as possible and create an environment that is sleep promoting.