Understanding Nightmares and Their Significance
Nightmares can be truly terrifying. Many people associate nightmares with being younger and immediately think of nightmares focusing on ‘the monster under the bed’ or ‘the monster in the closet’. Although they do usually begin when we are young, for many people nightmares are a difficult part of their everyday lives. Often after a trauma, or during particularly difficult periods in their lives, many people suffer with nightmares night after night. Nightmares can be extremely realistic in their quality leaving those that experience them terrified and unable to sleep. Even the most imaginative nightmares can still have an underlying meaning in reality. Sometimes this meaning is hidden from us in our memory while others contain themes or aspects that we have tried to block out from our past. This is extremely common for those who have suffered from PTSD, abuse or other traumatic events throughout their lives.
So, how can you stop these nightmares that leave you tossing and turning throughout the night, terrified of reliving them? As an experienced counsellor, I have come to learn different techniques that can help people to leave their nightmares behind them. And, with honest communication and engaging therapy, I can help people to understand why they came to be plagued by nightmares in the first place, and how to deal with the underlying issues so they can sleep peacefully in the future.
Where Can Nightmares Come From?
As people grow older, there can be many reasons why they start getting nightmares that can become recurrent or leave them terrified of sleeping. Many people can experience situations that leave them uncomfortable, scared or full of anxiety. Unfortunately, we live in a world where robbery and violence are prevalent. An horrific event such as a mugging could lead to violent nightmares, reminding the person of their past trauma and forcing them to relive this difficult experience.
People that suffer with depression and anxiety quite often also suffer from nightmares. This can make trying to overcome their symptoms even harder as they suffer with a lack of sleep and fear of their own minds. During the day whilst we are awake it can be slightly easier to face issues head on and rationalise them, however, at night many people aren’t aware they are actually in a dream in that moment and cannot stop themselves from having these troubling thoughts and worries. Therapy can help us understand the best ways to tackle the root cause of our anxiety so that sleeping doesn’t become another issue and add to feelings of stress or worry.
Past abuse is one of the leading reasons for recurring nightmares. When people face abuse as a child or young adult, it often carries with them, consciously and sub-consciously, into their adult life. If they try and suppress the memories, these can often resurface in the form of nightmares and night terrors, triggering depression or anxiety symptoms and making nighttime and sleep a very lonely, traumatic time.
The Dangers of Self-Medicating
People who struggle with night terrors might try to self-medicate to help prevent further episodes or to help them to drift off to sleep. Some may start trying to stay awake for as long as possible until they eventually burn out from exhaustion, however, this is not a long-term solution and may even lead to conditions such as insomnia.
Turning to drugs or alcohol as ways to numb thoughts and induce a dreamless night of sleep might seem tempting, but this is so much worse for you in the long term. Drugs and alcohol make you crash out rather than fall asleep, meaning that you can struggle to wake up and when you do you will feel much worse. This can have a hugely negative impact on your life, affecting both your relationships and your career. Even these methods don’t guarantee you will be free of nightmares, they just put your body under unnecessary stress, so it is less likely for you to dream. But, the long-term effects of putting your body into a state of distress is unhealthy and can lead to severe health issues.
One of the worst-case scenarios is that when some people turn to drugs as a means of keeping the nightmares at bay, they realise that the drugs can have a hallucinating effect actually making the things they see in the nightmares feel more real. As they are under the influence of drugs, they often don’t know that these visions are hallucinations and it can lead them to believe that what they are seeing is real, having an adverse impact on their mental health. You have the power to choose not to follow these harmful patterns and instead seek real, lasting help for your nightmares.
What Can You Do?
There are many different things that you can do, both little and big, to help shift the nightmares for good and start on the path to better mental health. You can begin with trying to get an early night to help boost your physical health. A physically fit body can have a significant positive impact on your mental health, helping to eliminate the nightmares. So, by combining an early night with a regular exercise routine, you can see a vast change in your outlook on life, making falling asleep and feeling peaceful whilst asleep much easier.
Even candles can have a significant impact as the smell of candles can help relax your body and clear your mind before you go to bed, making you calm and ready for a deep, peaceful sleep. (Just make sure you blow them out before bed). You could even read while the candles are burning if you still have a difficult time falling asleep. Reading can help fill your mind with imaginative characters and stories, leaving you with something else to linger in your mind as you try to sleep rather than drifting off to your nightmares.
Therapy can really help you to understand why you are having these nightmares in the first place. A counsellor can help you to come to terms with a situation or issue that has caused you grief, unhappiness, shame or anger in your life that could be manifesting in your nightmares. By returning for follow-up sessions, the counsellor can then track the nightmares and see if speaking about and understanding past trauma is helping to reduce them. Even when the nightmares have entirely stopped, the counsellor can help you to understand that this is a part of your history and it doesn’t define you. This will help alleviate the nightmares and any depression or anxiety symptoms that may have occurred.
Please don’t live your life in fear of sleeping because of nightmares. Therapy can help you to find the cause of your nightmares and address any past abuse or trauma that is influencing them. If you are interested in learning more about how I can help you to overcome your nightmares, anxiety, depression or past abuse, then contact me today for more information. I am based in Stretton, near Warrington, and pride myself on providing a safe, confidential and supportive environment to help my clients to open up and start their path to a happier life.