Everybody has bad dreams sometimes, where you wake up in a cold sweat. What causes nightmares like this?

With your heart and thoughts racing, you struggle with nightmares. Sometimes you are afraid to go to sleep again to avoid your dreams. What is happening? What makes our brain draw all these horrible, unpleasant pictures and what do all these nightmares mean?

What causes nightmares? Finally, some answers

Let’s try to answer these questions. But, before we begin, let’s check the definition of the word “nightmare” to understand how and why we see these images and sounds. It’s worth understanding the causes of bad dreams.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines this term as a very upsetting or frightening dream. Wikipedia also tells us that a nightmare is a bad dream. And the dictionary Merriam-Webster defines a nightmare, like a bad dream that wakes the sleeper. Another definition tells us that a nightmare is a terrifying dream in which the dreamer experiences feelings of helplessness, extreme anxiety, sorrow, etc.

So, it’s obvious that the nightmare is something negative that plagues most of us from time to time. Its common definition suggests a familiar condition in which we’ve all struggled to discover the cause.

The term is described in various dictionaries approximately equally. Among all definitions, there are three main features. A nightmare is always a negative experience, it is a bad dream from which you wake up filled with different bad feelings.

What’s hiding behind the nightmares?

Now that we’ve figured out what it is, it’s worth focusing on the causes of nightmares. What reasons lead to the fact that a dream, during which the body must rest and recover, turns into a terrible torturous experience and makes us even more tired? What influences the appearance of such dreams and is it possible to somehow avoid this?

People usually believe that bad dreams only happen when you are a child. In fact, adults suffer as well, although much less often. The theme or subject of nightmares is different for all people, but there are some common features.

1. Dreams of the dead

If you’re dreaming of death, the dead, or someone who has passed away recently, then it’s not what you might think. No, you’re not going to encounter a zombie, and unfortunately, a loved one probably isn’t coming back from the great beyond. What these nightmares usually mean is that you have a problem letting go.

Something in your life is holding you back from doing the things you should. Take inventory of your life and search for the one thing that could be keeping you from moving on. When you find this thing and let it go, then maybe your nightmares of the dearly departed will end. It’s worth a try.

2.  Running from something

Some dreams involve running and you cannot escape from danger, say being chased by something in the form of a maniac, monster or something like that. These dreams often have the same meaning as when you fall from a great height.

At the moment when you’re caught by your pursuer or should almost hit the ground after the fall, you wake up or shudder. In life, maybe you have experienced some kind of strong emotional shock or psychological trauma, and you fear that you may experience it again. And that’s exactly what it means!

Most of the time anxiety is responsible for these types of dreams. Something in your life is causing you great distress.

3. Falling

There are many reasons for the dream of falling. The emergence of these types of nightmares in adults is usually spontaneous. But there are a number of things that may provoke these dreams.

For example, if you ate a lot of food right before you went to bed, this can trigger falling sensations. The dream can also mean you are losing control of certain aspects of your life. After all, when you fall, you lose contact with anything used to steady or stabilize your body. This can represent the stability of your mind as well.

4. Twitching during nightmares

The metabolic processes in the brain increase when twitching is present. The brain receives signals that it is necessary to increase the activity of the body. Another reason for twitching in a dream is the result of a strong emotional or physical exertion before bedtime. A hard workout in the gym, a serious quarrel or, on the contrary, a long laugh with friends.

When you go to bed after such a load, because of the sharp drop in activity of the body, the brain thinks you are dying. Therefore, the brain sends the body a short signal to check whether everything is well and that you are alive at all. This signal causes your twitching.

Often, students experience this after they fall asleep after a night of difficult study. College can be stressful, as with other things, there are also social events which can disrupt studies and cause these horrible dreams. In the case of college students, there will be many causes of these types of dreams.

5. Lucid dreaming

Bad dreams are also caused by medications, as in the case of lucid dreaming. It is necessary to carefully read the instructions on any medications prescribed by your doctor, and pay attention to the dose.

Also, pay close attention to any possible side effects. The causes of nightmares can also be found in various mental disorders. Anxiety or similar disorders can cause bizarre images and sounds to invade your dreaming.

Keep a journal of your lucid dreams in order to understand what might be causing them. If you haven’t taken any medications and you’re still plagued by these dreams, seek a professional to weed out other potentially serious health problems.

Handling the nightmares

Now, when you know about types of nightmares, you know, that they appear for a reason. They prevent us from rest and normal recovery, which can cause a weakening of immunity.

A lack of sleep, which can be caused by these dreams, can trigger the development of certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease, depression, and obesity. In addition, it may signal health problems that already exist. In the worst cases, bad dreams can lead to suicide.

Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of these problems. You can change your schedule so that the last meal does not stand close to bedtime. Or you can change the schedule of your workouts and transfer them to the morning.

If the nightmares are caused by some medicine that you are taking, contact your doctor, tell your physician about the problem and ask to change the medicine.

If your bad dreams are caused by stress when you study or because of work, think about how to reduce the amount of stress and what can be done to have more rest. For example, set aside some time for a walk, a yoga class, or something that will calm you down.

If sleep problems are associated with your inner experiences or mental trauma, you should seriously work with your therapist on this so as not to incur serious health problems.

I hope these dream interpretations have helped you understand the causes of nightmares, and how you can find relief from your nights of terror.

Be well.


  1. https://www.webmd.com
  2. http://listverse.com

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Gary Hynous

    There was a book written many years ago titled “The Teachings of Don Juan. The book was written by Carlos Castenada based on his experiences with various psychedelic plants which he was made aware of by Don Juan Genaro. In this book he talks about lucid dreaming. One of Don Juan’s instructions to his student was to attempt to see his hand during a lucid dream so as to be proactive in the dream and not just an observer. This is really difficult to do! I experimented many, many years ago with psychedelic drugs in the late 1960’s when I first arrived in California. LSD, psilocybin, mescalin, ecstasy, pot and a few others. Those were the days when Timothy Leary, group encounters and other psychological experiments were in vogue. Has some amazing sensations and visions.I also completed undergraduate and graduate school at this time. Looking back now as an older man I can’t say i have any regrets. I’m not recommending this to anyone especially now that addictive and dangerous drugs are on the streets. Children should avoid these drugs at all costs. Parents beware.

    1. Sherrie

      Thank you for reading, Gary.

      I didn’t experiment that much with hallucinogens, but I did smoke my share of pot. Now, my son is experimenting with things and I am terrified. Thank you for the warning. 🙂

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