According to Science: Why People Get Bad Dreams

man having a hard time to sleep

As you may have realized by now, bad dreams are not just for kids. Adults can very well have it, too. You may have dreamt of not being able to run or hide fast enough from something dangerous or the classic, falling from a tall building. You wake up catching your breath, with heart pounding so hard. While deeply spiritual people would treat this as kind of a forewarning for a bad thing happening in one’s life, in the scientific perspective, nightmares are just a product of mechanisms and processes occurring inside the body.

Why People Get Bad Dreams

Nightmares often happen at the later stages of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, where the cycles get longer. It explains why you tend to have it in the middle of the night or in the wee hours of the morning. There are a few theories as to what triggers the vivid, disturbing dreams. Your late-night snacking, for one, may be to blame. This habit increases metabolism and therefore makes the brain more active. Some medications can also contribute to nightmares, especially those that have a direct effect on brain chemicals like antidepressants or blood pressure prescriptions. Do note that withdrawal from drugs may be a trigger, too. Ironically, lack of sleep makes for nightmare spells as well. It’s a cycle. When you get unpleasant dreams, you find it hard to go back to sleep. That shortage of sleep can, in turn, make you more vulnerable to another horror-filled night.

When it’s not the lifestyle, the trigger can be certain health problems. A lot of people who suffer stress, anxiety, or post-traumatic disorder experience nightmares more frequently. The same is true with individuals who have obstructive sleep apnea. The condition wherein the throat muscles relax and therefore block the airway during sleep, specifically at the stage where dreams occur. Interestingly, doctors observe that people who have apnea tend to have nightmares about choking, drowning, and getting suffocated.

How to Shoo the Bad Dreams Away

man deep in sleep
Now that you know the triggers for bad dreams, it’s a little easier to make a game plan for prevention. First on your list is to avoid midnight snacks. One of the reasons people slip into this habit is super-restrictive daytime eating. If you’re doing this to slim down, try the better approach of eating in small portions, yes — but frequently throughout the day. Hopefully, this can tame your appetite during the night.

As for health problems that trigger nightmares, consult your doctor for treatments. Make sure that you monitor how the medications they prescribe are affecting your sleep. If it causes more frequent nightmares, ask your doctor for alternative drugs. Better yet, ask if you can get into a ‘natural’ therapy.

Some health problems are addressed with the “holy trinity of lifestyle management”: eat healthily, exercise regularly, and sleep for seven to eight hours. The last thing is important, as it addresses not only the medication-triggers, but also some of the sleep disorders and psychological problems mentioned earlier.

How do you then achieve that full, restful sleep? Take note of your environment. Keep your room cool. Shut off sources of light and noises. Choose a comfortable, body-conforming mattress. Salt Lake City experts also remind the importance of getting rid of phones and gadgets once you hop into your bed. Remember, the blue light coming from your devices is never good for your sleep.

Bad dreams are the worst. Omens and superstitions aside, they’re a product of the complex processes happening inside your body and mind. That said, listen to your physical and psychological needs to experience a nightmare-free sleep.