Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bad Dream or Nightmare?

Think back to last night, did you have a dream? If you remember your dream, did it make you feel sad, confused guilty or disgusted? Or perhaps was your dream so disturbing and threatening that it forced you to awaken? These characteristics separate a bad dream from a nightmare.

So what are nightmares and why do we dream in the first place? According to the Sleep Foundation, nightmares are dreams with vivid and disturbing content. They are most common in children but can also occur in adults. Nightmares typically result in immediate awakening and dreamers are able to recall the dream. Sleep disorder specialists have yet to come up with an answer as to why we dream in the first place however one hypothesis is that dreams provide a psychological relief from the hectic dynamics of daily life. Another hypothesis is that dreams may indicate disruptions in the nervous system. In any case, most people are capable of dreaming which occurs during a period of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement or REM.

Researchers at the University of Montreal have discovered that nightmares evoke greater emotions than bad dreams do. Fear is for the most part absent in bad dreams but is a factor in about a third of nightmares. Physical aggression is also a commonality in most nightmares. Bad dreams do not involve aggression and instead involve interpersonal conflict. Nightmares also involve feelings of threat which may lead to sudden awakening of the dreamer. 

Nightmares can become a major issue for those who tend to have them often. People who have recurring nightmares may fear falling asleep which could lead to other issues such as insomnia. Many nightmares arise from past trauma such as death of a loved one or fighting a war. Drugs and alcohol can also play a role in vivid dreaming. The good news is that nightmares can be treated using techniques involving visualization. Through this technique, dreamers learn how they can change a negative scenario in their dream to a more positive one (so sayonara Freddy Krueger!). 

A lot of people still cant tell the difference between a bad dream and a nightmare because to most people the two are interchangeable. Research however, says that the two are not synonymous and both involve different emotions. Nightmares are also more likely to effect daily life. Hopefully next time you have either a bad dream or a nightmare you will be able to distinguish between the two. And if frequent nightmares are preventing you from having a good nights sleep, do not stress because there are treatments available to help.  

-Posted by Amanda Okpoebo (Group C)


  1. Are there techniques to treat nightmares other than visualization, such as medicine? Of course, it's preferable to not have to be medicated, but I don't fully understand how visualization works. Is this done while asleep?
    -Meghan Harrington

  2. I've always been interested in how certain dreams arise and what role they play in biological function. Is there any reason as to why children are more susceptible to nightmares than adults? Overall great post!

    -Hilary Mello

  3. I've never thought about the differences between a bad dream and a nightmare. This is a very interesting and informative post. Could you please provide some description for the brains figure?
    Phi Duong

  4. Very interesting subject! I have heard of dream control meditations and was wondering if this visualization used to changed negative dreams into positive ones is like that. How does the visualization you speak of work exactly?

    -Ashley Condon

  5. Dreams are so fascinating. I had no idea that there is a difference between a bad dream and a nightmare! I can not wait until they discover what makes us dream in the first place. Great post.

    Erika Nevins