Sleep is the best time of day for the body to rest and let go of things we have to face. Dreams are also commonly associated with sleep. Assuming you sleep like a regular person each night, you should have a few dreams, most of which will generally be forgotten, unless they are nightmares.
The other night I had a nightmare. I don't have them very often, but once it happens, it just happens. I dreamed I was sitting on a couch in my bedroom watching TV with my family like normal, with the noise of people yelling outside. As I was thinking about going out to check, the door suddenly slammed open and then there was a group of people carrying all sorts of weapons. Although there were a few other people in my room, these attackers were focused on me and pointed their guns and knives at me. That's when I woke up with my heart pounding, and my hands sweating. When I checked the clock by my bed, it turns out I had only slept a few hours and I felt tired as if I hadn't slept at all. Sometimes nightmares feel real and intense and make it hard to go back to sleep again. Nightmares tend to stay with us longer than regular dreams because they're more emotionally charged. The fear and anxiety that you feel during a nightmare are the same as the fear and anxiety that you would feel in real life, which is horrible.
But why do we get nightmares? According to the Petcharavej Hospital website, nightmares tend to occur as early as 10 years of age. For adults, 5% experience nightmares once a week, and 85% report having nightmares occasionally. Nightmares are often a reflection of your waking mental state. It usually happens during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep when your brain is still active. Stressing about a looming unpleasantness as well as anxiety from past events can cause nightmares. These are called idiopathic nightmares, meaning we don't know exactly why they happen. So if you have a nightmare every now and again, it's nothing to worry about.
Nightmares can also be caused by medication or drugs, especially ones that affect neurotransmitters like antidepressants or narcotics. People who have what psychologists define as thin boundaries of the mind are more prone to nightmares too. If nightmares are common in adulthood, it can be a sign of mental health problems that may occur in the future, especially in those who have experienced traumatic events in real life like car accidents or wars. If you're among the 5% of people who have nightmares often enough to affect your waking hours, consider seeking help from professional sleep experts or a therapist.
However, having nightmares or bad dreams isn't always a bad sign, and actually might be a good thing. According to BBC News Thailand, a team of neurologists from the Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland and the University of Wisconsin in the US studied how the brain responds to different types of dreams to find out how moderately frightening nightmares can benefit people. Evidence was found indicating that feelings of fear experienced in dreaming may help the brain be more effective at responding to fear when we are awake. In other words, nightmares are the brain's effort to resolve stress, emotional conflict or trauma.
Therapists also suggest writing down what you can remember from dreams as a great way to handle nightmares. You can write about your nightmares in detail or how you were feeling after waking up. You could even rewrite it to have a more pleasant ending. Studies have also shown that writing about worries and fears can help resolve them and lead to peaceful sleep. Remember to be kind to yourself and to get a good, nightmare-free sleep.
Tatat Bunnag is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.