Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares

By Adam 30 March 2022


The sleeping brain often presents us with bad dreams. Here we discuss what causes nightmares, the most common nightmares, and what they potentially mean.

Having nightmares is an unfortunate, yet normal, experience that often comes with sleep. Although experienced most by children under the age of 10, nightmares continue to be common throughout life and into adulthood. In fact, research has shown that in a group of college students, 47% of them had at least one nightmare within the two weeks before being surveyed.

One-off nightmares are completely normal, and can be caused by a number of things, discussed below. Nightmare disorder, however, is when you experience excessive nightmares to the point that it affects your day-to-day life.

Different to this again is night terrors, which should not be conflated with the above. Night terrors occur early in the sleep process and often involve screaming and/or thrashing movement. Upon waking, the dreamer usually cannot remember what the dream involved. Night terrors usually stop around puberty, and are often accompanied by sleepwalking or bed wetting in children.

You should consider seeing a doctor if you experience multiple nightmares a week, they coincide with taking new medication, or they noticeably affect your sleep or waking life.

Causes of Nightmares

It’s difficult to put a pin in what causes nightmares as the cause of each case is likely to be different. Listed below are some of the most common diagnosable reasons for nightmares.

·   Sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnoea or narcolepsy)

·   Medication side effects or withdrawal from medication

·   Stress, anxiety, and/or depression

·   Alcohol and/or drugs

·   Eating before bed

·   Illness

·   PTSD

·   Consuming scary content before bed (films/books/videogames)

What Foods Cause Nightmares?

Cheese is commonly blames for causing nightmares, but many other foods have also been found to encourage dreaming, and therefore nightmares, or other sleep disturbances. These include:

·   Spicy foods

·   Sugary treats

·   Fast food or other meals high in fat content

·   Pasta, bread, or other high carb foods

Common Nightmare Themes and their Possible Meanings

There is lots of debate as to whether dreams and nightmares mean anything at all. Many sleep psychologists now believe that dreams are the brain’s way of processing events and emotions from the previous day. This is because they occur during REM sleep, which is believed to be the memory processing part of sleep.

Others, however, suggest that dreams are the manifestation of a latent feeling. The many different types of nightmares may therefore be the manifestation of fear and trauma. Below is a list of the top 10 most common nightmare themes, and what dream analysers believe them to represent.

1. Falling: This usually entails falling off something at a great height, such as a cliff, or the floor falling out from underneath you. It is believed to represent a dramatic loss of control or descent.

2. Being chased: Found in a study on over 1,000 college students to be the most common nightmare theme, someone chasing you could mean that you’re trying to outrun a current problem in your life. You may be avoiding something serious if you dream of this.

3. Death: Dreaming of death supposedly represents the end of something. If it is the death of a particular person, consider what they mean to you, and what part of your life is ending.

4. Being Naked: Nakedness usually represents vulnerability, or a fear to be seen for who you really are.

5. Losing teeth: Similarly to death, this type of dream is believed to represent the loss of something. As a common dream across all ages, this could be the loss of anything, but most commonly this is power, youth, popularity, attractiveness, or communication. Teeth and the mouth can represent a lot of different things, so unfortunately this dream can be difficult to fine-tune.

6. Injury: This is the manifestation of powerlessness put into a physical weakness. Strong emotions may take the form of a more dramatic injury or even malformation.

7. Natural disaster: One of the vaguer understandings of a dream, natural disasters are believed to represent a more generalised anxiety, or the fear of a present unpredictability.

8. Being trapped: This is likely to represent the inability to break away from a current negative situation. It is often a common nightmare in people struggling financially.

9. Drowning: Water is often used as a metaphor for emotion, and it’s no different in dreams. Drowning could mean being overwhelmed by an emotion or by an event in your life.

10.  Being Late: These dreams are believed to dictate your worries of running out of time. Perhaps you feel stuck in a part of your life, but feel anxious to make the change.

How to Ease Nightmares

If you are currently dealing with nightmares, there are several lifestyle changes you may want to consider to put your mind in a healthier state before going to sleep. If you already know what causes your nightmares, it will be much easier to find the right solution to them. This may be one of the following:

·   Regular exercise (at least three times a week)

·   Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake

·   Relaxing before bed

·   Establishing a stable sleep pattern

If your child is having nightmares, there are also several things you can try with them both before bed and to calm them down after waking. These include:

·   Deep breathing exercises

·   Keeping a dream journal

·   Providing them with bedtime comforters (like stuffed animals or blankets)

·   Leaving them a nightlight, or leaving their bedroom door cracked open

·   Encouraging them to rewrite the end of the nightmare

If your child has nightmares every night, you should take them to see your GP, particularly if they have a recurring theme.


If you experience nightmare disorder rather than occasional nightmares, you may require further professional help. This may include psychotherapy.

Many elements of psychotherapy come under CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy), which is a common method of treating mental disorders and works by encouraging you to re-establish your pattern of thinking.

For treating nightmare disorder, you may be recommended, among other things, image rehearsal therapy (rewriting a recurring nightmare when awake until it changes in your sleep), lucid dreaming therapy (becoming aware when in a dream and therefore able to control it), or progressive deep muscle relaxation (a technique that counteracts the build up of stress in the body).

Sleep Well with Get Laid Beds

The most important part of a restful night is having a comfortable place to spend it. At Get Laid Beds, we offer a vast range of mattresses and beds like our single wooden bed frames which are the ideal setup for a satisfying sleep. Take a look at our range!

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