Some days you wake up feeling groggy and tired. A scene from a disturbing nightmare last night plays out repeatedly in your mind. You keep wondering what it meant so you sit down with a friend and discuss it. It might seem silly, but it felt so real. It must mean something.
Nightmares are more common in adults than you might think and even more so in children. However, concrete information available in this area is quite limited as no one has been able to capture nightmares for a study. Nightmares are terrifying dreams that occur in Rapid Eye Movement or REM cycle. REM Sleep is called so as it is during this time that your eye moves rapidly behind closed eyelids. These dreams are so realistic that it causes the sleeper to wake up with a clear memory of the events in the nightmare.
REM sleep begins ninety minutes after you have fallen asleep and constitutes 25% of your sleep cycle where your brain is active and functioning. This means that the brain sends out signals to different parts of your body, collecting information as usual. Signals to the spinal cord keeps the body in a temporary state of paralysis, hence inhibiting you from acting out your dreams.
Behind closed eyes: Why Nightmares Occur
Nightmares are usually a medium for the brain to act out emotions that one feels during the day. Excess stress, traumatic events, relationship issues, change in medication, anxiety, depression, insomnia and other troubles in one’s lives can manifest into nightmares during the night. The mental state of a person is an indicator of their nightmares, its frequency and its conscious minimization.
Though scenes from our dreams may or may not have meaning, it tells us something we need to know about our mind. Once we realize that it is more than a scary movie played out in our heads, that its purpose is to help us solve problems and put our anxious mind at rest, we might learn to not fear it as much.
Behind closed eyes: Sleepwalking and why it occurs
Sleepwalking is when the body reacts to the signals of the brain and performs a set of complex behaviours while sleeping. These behaviours would include walking, driving, talking, screaming, snacking without any recollection of doing so. The behaviour can be dangerous with recorded sleep related violent behaviours and resulting injury to self and others.
In cases of sleepwalking, it is common to observe that waking the individual from the deep state of slumber is quite hard. Sleepwalking is directly related to not getting enough sleep due to disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, migraines and head injury.
How to sleep better and minimize episodes
Improving Sleep Hygiene: Both nightmares and sleepwalking can be overpowered by practicing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a series of exercises that is geared towards ensuring a good night’s rest. These practices include setting an environment that fosters deep sleep.
- External environment- The bedroom should be a cool and quiet haven that beckons sleep. White noise machines can drown out excessive noise from the street. Investing in a good humidifier and sleep masks can go a long way. It is better to keep away screens and cell phones that is a common cause of insomnia. It might also do well to invest in a good mattress that has the right amount of firmness to keep your body comfortable. You can ensure your legs aren’t sticking out by measuring the dimensions of a full-size bed before the purchase.
- Lifestyle Changes- Caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks before bed time can keep you up longer than desired. A good routine before bed like a warm shower or a good book can help you drift away peacefully. It is better to keep the body active during the day rather than rigorous exercises at night. Nicotine and alcohol are also known to adversely affect sleep. Instead, sleep inducing teas like chamomile, passion flower and lavender can help you doze off faster. *
Digging deep through emotional issues: The fact that nightmares and sleepwalking are a manifestation of our emotional state is an opportunity to pull apart our lives and identify the toxic components in it. It could be an unhealthy relationship or trauma, but this allows us to face our issues head on rather than wallow in a state of denial. An ideal way to do this can be to take a step back and look at the situation as an outsider. An outsider can have better perspective in the matter, given the lack of emotional attachments to the problem areas. If this is too hard, consider a therapist or a counsellor who can give you an unbiased opinion to help you rise above the emotional distress in your life. **
Create a sleep journal: Many people suffering from nightmares or chronic sleep deprivation have found it beneficial to maintain a sleep journal. The journal is a way to record events leading up to incidents, thereby discovering triggers. Maintaining a journal is a wonderful way to map out patterns in your life causing the incidents and bestows upon you the power to make conscious changes.
Medical Intervention: In cases of persisting issues with sleep despite incorporating changes, it is better to talk to your health care provider about your experiences. Certain medication is known to cause disruptions in sleep patterns and can be reversed easily by an expert identifying the source. Head injuries or serious medical conditions can also cause chronic sleep deprivation and it is essential to detect ailments before it is too late. Hypnosis is a recommendation by many doctors to find out deep-rooted emotional problems. There are no tests for nightmares and sleepwalking, but tests can be conducted to find the root cause.
The human body is capable of many adventures and achievements. However, plenty of rest is important for it to function in optimal capacity. If left unchecked, sleep disorders only get worse with time, taking a heavy toll on the mind and body. The above changes are simple amendments to daily life so incorporating them can help solve these problems without prescriptive medication.
*Sleep Hygiene – An article by the National Sleep Foundation
**Nightmares: How To Make Sense Of Your Darkest Dreams by By Alex Lukeman