DREAM DISCOVERY: Nightmares, Demons of the Night

Do demons of the night plague you?

Did you know that many nightmare themes are quite common worldwide? Betrayal, failure, illness and death, being trapped, being pursued, being lost, caught naked, falling — these are typical themes of nightmares.

Dreaming about death?  Is there an aspect of yourself or an old part of your life that is ending to make room for a new beginning?

                                                                                                                            Nicolas Bruno

Naked in a dream?  In your daily life, are you feeling particularly exposed, vulnerable or unprepared?

Trapped in a dream?  Do you feel trapped in your waking life? Are you on the verge of a commitment and need to sort out your concerns?

                                                                                                 Nicolas Bruno

Being pursued in a dream?  Before sleep, mentally rehearse your dream drama with a successful conclusion. This time stop and face your pursuer. After all, it’s a dream, right? You are actually safe in your bed so face your fears and dare to learn something. Ask your pursuer, “Who are you?”  There is a reason you are being pursued so ask them “What is your message for me?”

The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman

Everyone has “bad dreams.” What distinguishes bad dreams from nightmares is intensity. In a bad dream you may feel embarrassed. In a nightmare you may feel horrified. 

With practice, the dreamer can learn to decode the visual and symbolic language of a dream to see relationships between their dream and daily life. For help with nightmares, see “13 Lucky Tips to Tame Your Nightmares” below.

What are the causes of nightmares?

The cause of nightmares depends on the individual and what is happening in their life but common culprits are stress, trauma, or medications and drugs that effect the mind. Talk to your doctor about any medications or drugs you are taking. Consider your nightmare a message about the need to examine sources of stress in your life or to clear the impact of a past trauma.

We commonly associate fear with both bad dreams and nightmares. Anxiety does drive a majority of nightmares and bad dreams. However a new study released by psychology researchers Geneviève Robert and Antonio Zadra at the University of Montreal revealed that among the 10,000 people they studied, about 35% of their nightmares and 50% of the bad dreams contained primary emotions other than fear such as sadness, confusion, guilt, anger, disgust and others. 

So did the researchers find a common theme with nightmares and bad dreams?  Zadra said that the most frequently reported themes involved physical aggression or interpersonal conflicts, such as one where the dreamer is having an intense argument or is being humiliated by either a co-worker or family member. Other themes relate to helplessness, failure or health concerns such as being told that you’re about to die or learning of someone’s death. With practice, any dreamer can learn to decode the visual and symbolic language of their dream to see relationships between their dreams and waking life.

While most dreams are visual, a kind of a “cinema of the mind,” Zadra says other senses can manifest themselves in nightmares and bad dreams. Dreams can be auditory in nature. For example we can hear people scream or talk to us, hear sirens wailing or a dog barking. On rare occasions Zadra said that we can also feel pain or feel the cold or warmth around us. Sometimes we can also taste or smell things in our dreams. Just like in our waking life, our senses speak to us in our dream life too.

13 Lucky Tips to Tame Your Nightmares

1. Develop a regular sleep pattern. Your brain will thank you for this. And develop a relaxing sleep ritual. Try a warm bath, pleasant music, breathing meditation, or a relaxing body practice like yoga poses that support sleep.

2. Make sure your sleeping environment is uncluttered and comfortable. Cover light sources.

3. Don’t go to sleep angry or stressed out. Give yourself some time to chill out. Don’t ruminate because the chances are that your problem will still be there tomorrow. Or better yet – it won’t be. For now, let it go.

4. Walk away from screens an hour or more before sleep. Our digital devices emit a higher concentration of blue light than we receive from natural light. Blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength. So dim the brightness of your devices as much as you can during the day.

franz falckenhaus

5. Reduce exposure to violent images and media especially right before sleep.

6. Don’t sleep on your back. This encourages a special kind of nightmare known as sleep paralysis, in which you feel like you are being held down and cannot move, perhaps by an “unknown presence” in the room. Definitely scary. Read The Dream Blog about Sleep Paralysis.

7. To set your mind in a positive direction before sleep end your day recalling the gifts that have come your way. What are you thankful for. Even if you fear it may all be gone tomorrow, what are you happy about right now?

8. Spend time enjoying the benefits of the natural world as often as possible. Many therapists believe that we all suffer from “nature deficiency disorder.”

9. Begin a body-oriented relaxation practice like basic breathing relaxation, stretching, yoga, walking or Qigong.

10. If you have numerous, repetitive nightmares that are related to childhood scenes or some personal trauma you’ve encountered, seek out professional support or at least the ear of a supportive person.

11. Journal about your dreams. This daily practice of self-reflection helps you understand how your dreams are relevant to your life right now. Dreams are helpful messengers from our unconscious that can illuminate aspects of our life we’re not offering attention to in the course of our busy days. Check out the Dream Discovery Workbook: A Guided Dream Journal below.

Imagine how you will face your fears the next time you have a nightmare. It’s your dream, right? So you are in charge. Take flight, don your superhero cape, brandish your magic laser sword, or get playful or seductive – whatever you like.

12. Draw or paint images from your nightmares. This can empower you with a sense of personal ownership of what you fear in your dream. You can take this a step further and burn the image or cut it into pieces. Or make friends with your fears – give the image an honored spot in your home. 

13. Share your dreams. In My Dream Life Dream Circles you can discover the wisdom of your dreams with the synergy and support of a small group of dreamers like yourself and a professional mentor.

Discover the wisdom of your dreams, including nightmares, with the Dream Discovery Workbook: A Guided Dream Journal available HERE from My Dream Life.

To read about how artist Nicolas Bruno transforms his night terrors with art: Dreams, Art & Healing

For more about sleep paralysis: Devil in the Room

To read about kids and nightmares: Children and Nightmares

Venice photo: Hollye Hurst

Dream Discovery™ at My Dream Life. All Rights Reserved.