What Causes Nightmares?

| April 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

Nightmares are dreams that may force awakening of the individual in a conscious state.

The person having a nightmare may experience a number of negative emotions during a nightmare such as anger, sadness or guilt, but is more commonly associated with fear or anxiety. Although various types of dreams can be classified as nightmares depending on the individual, most persons having nightmares imagine themselves being chased by a figure. It may occur in children, or in as much as 10% of adults. Nightmares are generally not harmful, and besides interrupted sleep cycle, there is rarely any physical damage done.

How to Prevent Nightmares

To an extent, it depends on the underlying cause of the nightmare; for example some drugs may cause you vivid nightmares, as would certain illnesses. Children generally resolve their nightmares after speaking to a reassuring adult, and only in very disturbing cases would need help of a professional therapist.  Nightmares associated with a past traumatic event usually get better after a few weeks or months.



Other techniques that may help to prevent further nightmares in adults are to write it down, play out the nightmare with an edited ending, or convincing yourself it’s not real. Many persons who have nightmares do not even worry about it, dismissing it as just a bad dream. These persons have an overall lower incidence of nightmares, and demonstrate that a positive attitude is at least partially beneficial in preventing nightmares.

Causes of Nightmares

There are many possible causes of nightmares, some of them simple, others being deep emotional or psychological issues. The most common causes are:

Childhood and Family

Many nightmares are playbacks from an incident that occurred during childhood, and could be due to abuse, neglect, domestic violence or other issues. These nightmares may show an unresolved issue from childhood.


Daily relations and intimate relationships can result in nightmares from issues of inadequacy, or fear of lack of belonging, isolation and unhappiness manifested as loneliness in dreams.


Nightmares are normally a response that the body displays to show something has been on your mind for a long time. They are most commonly encountered in response to fear or stress. For many people, stress on a daily basis which accumulates over time may take its toll on sleep and cause you nightmares. Post traumatic stress encounters account for a large percentage of nightmares in this group and can be caused by flashbacks of war, torture, accidents, kidnappings or rape or acts of terrorism.

Your Life

The pattern of your life and the response society gives to you can also cause nightmares. Your perception of major events, such as crime, health and finances can all lead to pent up feelings of anxiety, precipitating nightmares.


Many jobs, especially those of professionals, entail very precise execution of daily work. For example, a doctor who has lost a patient under his care may carry a large burden which can cause him nightmares; similarly a lawyer who fails to convict a criminal may feel he has failed society.

Nightmares are normal if experienced occasionally, but may indicate a bigger problem when they become frequent enough to decrease your quality of life.

Tags: , ,

Category: Sleep Disorders

Leave a Reply