I am 25 years of age and can only recall five times in my life I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. I rarely have unpleasant dreams; the majority of my dreams are pleasant and filled with wonderful imagery. When I do have an unpleasant dream, it is always involving an animal(will discuss animals in another post). Last night was the fifth time I had a dream involving an animal, which caused me to wake up in the middle of the night. It wasn’t a horrible dream, but it startled me enough for me to wake up and brush off my shoulders.

What is a nightmare?

By definition, a nightmare is a dream that causes an intense emotion, often frightening and negative. Scientists separate nightmares into two categories: REM anxiety dream and night terrors. A REM anxiety dream is when the intense emotions are felt during REM activity. When an individual experiences the intense emotions caused by the imagery of the dream, they often remember the dream when they wake up. A night terror often occurs during the first few hours of sleep and dreamers do not recall the imagery. The dreamer only experiences the physical sensations; heavy breathing, sweating, disorientation.

A reoccurring theme in individual’s nightmares is the desire to run from something, having a feeling of being stuck, or experiencing fear. When a person wakes up, they are relieved to find out that they experienced a nightmare, not a real life situation.

Why a nightmare?

A nightmare can just be a fear projecting itself into your dream or it can be a warning. Nightmares can be caused by:

    • Sleep position
    • Stress
    • Anxiety
    • Eating before sleep
    • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
    • Illness
    • Arguments
    • Life Situations

What to do after a nightmare?

After waking up from a nightmare try to confront the issue head on. Take a few deep breathes and relax. Review the dream and try to understand the symbolism and the reason behind having the intense emotions. If the nightmare is reoccurring, practicing defeating the imagery can help. Try to imagine several alternative methods that can be taken within the dream to defeat the ‘nightmare’.

Because I rarely have nightmares and my dreams often hold messages, I reviewed my dream from last night and tried to make sense of it. It is not something I am going to stress over because it is not a common occurrence for me and it does not worry me, but for some, nightmares are dreaded and cause confusion.

When was your last nightmare? How did you overcome the fear?




An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

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