A nightmare is a disturbing dream that usually causes the person to talk in their sleep, toss and turn and sometimes wake up due to an increase in their heart rate. If the person wakes he/she will typically remember the nightmare, if not all of it at least in some part. The most common nightmare is when the dreamer is being chased or running from someone or something. When I was a child I was always running or flying away from fire. I would wake up and had to make sure the house wasn't on fire before I could feel secure enough to fall back asleep. Emotions run rampant during a nightmare, the dreamer can experience anger, guilt, sadness, depression, fear and anxiety. Many sleep terrors are due to external media such as a disturbing news night cast or a horror flick.
Children commonly are frightened by an animal or fantasy figure such as a clown. Why do children perceive clowns as scary figures and develop the phobia for clowns called coulrophobia? There are several theories that attempt to explain the origins of this phobia, but none have been convincing. One person described that most people are afraid of clown because it is hard to determine the clown's true emotions due to their painted on faces. Movies have shown smiling clowns to be actually the opposite of how they appearâ€¦as very scary clowns.
The majority of children start to have nightmares around the age of three while some will not have them until seven or eight. Nightmares are a part of normal development and shouldn't be a cause for concern. Adults experience nightmares less common on average about 5-10% have them once a month or more.
There are a few reasons we might have nightmares. All drugs that affect serotonin levels may affect sleep and dreaming. This goes for most antidepressants like Prozac and Celexa. Remeron can cause disturbing dreams. Morphine can cause vivid dreams and is named after Morpheus the Greek God of Dreams and Sleep. Even hormones such as DHEA and testosterone may cause sleep terrors if the dose is too large. Tranquilizers, like Valium, may lead to aggressive dreams.
Not only drugs but herbal supplements can influence dreaming especially if they have a psychotropic effect like kava kava, St. John's Wort, valerian, hops or passionflower. All of these herbs are known to benefit those not being able to go to sleep easy, but they can create vivid dreams.
Some nightmares are due to drug withdrawal, surgery, traumatic events, death in the family or high fevers. People can have sleep terrors if they are too stressed with work or family situations. If nightmares are associated with stress or traumatic events like those listed above they should diminish in time as the situation is dealt with during their daily recovery period. A therapist may be beneficial for children and adults that need added support in the healing process.
Other techniques used to find the cause for nightmares are writing down the dreams by keeping a dream diary and figuring out how the dream is associated with their daily life by dream interpretation. There are many books that are available on dream interpretation and how to understand what you are dreaming. If it is a child in question, instead of writing, they can draw or paint the subject or object that is causing the nightmare.
Night terrors are different than nightmares because they can cause the person to scream loudly and become very physical in their sleep. The sleeper is hard to awaken and they usually do not remember the dream only experience an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. Night terrors can cause people to sleep walk and a child sometimes will urinate the bed. Night terrors can cause other sleep disorders and health problems and it's advisable to consult with a physician if they are frequent or very troubling. Your physician may recommend alternative treatment or suggest counseling.