Travis Okimura, Journalist

When we go to sleep, we have three to five dreams almost every night. Usually we forget these dreams when we wake up, with most people forgetting about 95% of dreams. The dreams people typically remember tend to be negative ones, such as falling from a great height, being chased, or even being unprepared for an important event or test. Although these are not the best of dreams, these aren’t necessarily nightmares. 


“They’ve promised that dreams can come true. But forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams too.”

– Oscar Wilde


Nightmares occur in a sleepy or unconscious state; for some people, nightmares only happen occasionally, but for others, they are very frequent and can have negative effects on one’s health. There are many different causes of nightmares, ranging from stress, anxiety, and mental health issues to taking certain drugs and medications, sleep deprivation, and a personal history of nightmares. Many experts believe that having dreams is a way for your mind to process emotions, meaning anxiety or trauma could be the cause or factor of nightmares.  When waking up from a nightmare, most people are aware about the dream they just had – this can cause them to feel upset or anxious, experiencing symptoms like changes in heart rate or sweating. Along with other symptoms, there is a disorder called Parasomnia in which someone has unusual behaviors when asleep. Examples of this would be REM (rapid eye movement), when your eyes move rapidly in a range of directions, or sleep/night terrors, in which a person appears to be agitated or frightened in their sleep. 


The main way to distinguish between nightmares and sleep terrors is that nightmares are more common in the second half of the night while sleep terrors are more common in the first half of the night. A person that is having nightmares will usually have a clear image or recollection of the dream while a person who has night terrors remains mostly asleep and will have difficulty waking up. If awakened, the person who had night terrors tends to be aware of what was happening in the dream; however, when they wake up the next day, they will rarely remember they even had that dream. One can try to stop or manage nightmares and night terrors by going to therapy (such as image rehearsal, lucid dreaming, and/or psychotherapy); other methods include relaxing, hypnosis, and using night lights.  


Nightmares: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment