A nightmare is a frightening, realistic dream that can awaken you or linger in your thoughts long after you have woken up for the day. Nightmares can produce anxiety or heart-pounding fear, and even start at a very young age and continue throughout an individual’s life.
Nightmares are usually experienced during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which takes place in the early morning hours. REM sleep is characterized by an increase in body movements and vivid dreams.
Many individuals have recurring nightmares of the same experience or event, especially if they have gone through traumatic experiences or events.
What Causes Nightmares? 5 Common Triggers
Common nightmares experienced across cultures include losing teeth, falling from a high place, and moving in slow motion while being chased by a monster or other form of danger. Get to know what causes nightmares now.
1. Late Night Snacks
Indulging in late night snacks like junk food can increase the occurrence of nightmares. Sugary snacks like candy bars, ice cream, and cake as well as spicy foods can cause digestive issues and disrupt sleep.
The consumption of sugary snacks or spicy foods can speed up your metabolism and brain activity, which can increase the length of time when dreams and nightmares can take place.
Many studies have been able to link these types of food to an increase in the occurrence of nightmares. Individuals who love late night snacks or eat close to bedtime should refrain from doing so if it’s causing disturbing nightmares.
2. Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation means you aren’t getting enough sleep to feel and function at your best. The ideal amount of sleep varies from person to person, but it’s always the amount needed to feel well rested and alert in the morning. A lack of required sleep can lead to nightmares.
Sleep deprivation is a common problem, and it can affect individuals at different stages in life. Children and young adults seem to be more affected by a lack of sleep in comparison to older adults. Studies show the younger age groups have an increased risk of recurrent nightmares when experiencing insomnia and resulting fatigue.
The lack of sleep accumulates over time and can become more troublesome. Individuals having nightmares because of sleep deprivation can take steps to get a sufficient amount of sleep by establishing a bedtime routine, including a set time to head to bed.
3. Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression can have a huge influence on your ability to get a good night’s sleep. The daily worries of life and stressful events can result in restless nights and disturbing nightmares. Many individuals experience anxiety on a daily basis at school or work, especially due to worries about performance.
Students experience stress before exams or other tests, and working adults may have demanding jobs and little time to decompress and unwind. Significant life events such as divorce or the death of a loved one can cause life-altering depression as well.
Anxiety and depression are linked to poor sleep, and both may give rise to nightmares. Many students have nightmares about exams even after they’ve finished school. Studies have also shown a very strong link between severe depression and a higher incidence of nightmares.
4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are much more likely to have nightmares than the general population. Those who have suffered trauma or survived circumstances like natural disasters, war, or years of abuse have a significantly increased risk of recurring or frequent nightmares.
According to research estimates, approximately fifty-two to ninety-six percent of the PTSD population suffers from nightmares. Many patients tend to replay traumatic events over and over in their mind, and these elements or themes become an integral part of their nightmares.
Some individuals keep reliving the trauma for months or years afterward during waking hours and in their nightmares.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome affects the quality of sleep and also increases the occurrence of nightmares. It’s a neurological disorder that causes affected individuals to feel a strong compulsion to move their legs. It also causes a burning sensation and itchiness in the legs.
These symptoms are often at their worst during the night while lying down, which makes it difficult to sleep through the night. Severe cases of restless legs syndrome may cause a drastic reduction in the number of hour’s worth of sleep a patient can achieve per night. The condition mainly affects the middle-aged population.
Women and individuals with a family history have an increased risk of developing the condition. People with restless leg syndrome are more vulnerable to anxiety or depression, which can compound sleep problems and nightmares. The condition, thankfully, can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.