We have all experienced dreams, but not everybody has consistent nightmares through the majority of their sleeping life.

Whilst this may seem like a good thing to those who don’t suffer from nightmares, it can actually mean that sufferers are more likely to have positive dreams, as well as having very high empathy and creativity levels. Who knew that something so negative and often terrifying could turn out to be a positive thing?

Michelle Carr, psychologist at the University of Montreal’s Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, recently wrote an article in New Scientist explaining the two most dominant theories in nightmare explanations. The first being that nightmares are our way of coping with negative experiences that occur during our waking hours.

We develop strategies to cope with these experiences by living them through our dreams where we may feel safer and protected from the negative event. The second idea is the ‘threat simulation theory’ which is basically another way of saying when we have nightmares, we are rehearsing potential situations and preparing ourselves for what may happen in our waking lives – as a way to protect ourselves should something similar ever happen to us.

In Carr’s influential study, she asked volunteers to attend her Dream and Nightmare Laboratory located in Canada where they took part in questionnaires, creativity tests and gave reports of their waking daydreams. The volunteers then had electrodes attached to their bodies and they were asked to take a nap whilst findings were recorded.

Some studies, such as this one published in Science Direct, found that people who suffered from regular nightmares described themselves as being more empathetic than those who do not have regular nightmares.

They were also found to subconsciously mirror the actions of others whilst in regular conversation, such as yawning, which has also been linked to having high empathy in previous studies. Further studies by Carr found that when taking part in word-association tasks, those who suffer from regular nightmares performed better than those who do not.

The same can be said for creative aptitude tests and artistic expression – showing a connection between nightmares and sensitivity of emotion.

Although surprisingly, there is further good news for those who suffer from constant nightmares – Carr’s research also found that they are also very likely to have positive dreams as their dreaming life is positive, creative, vivid and free.

So what do you think about this research? Do you often suffer from nightmares? Let us know in the comments.

Christina Lawson, B.A.

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