Calming sleep to fearful dreams; Cause behind normal dreams vs nightmares


 Eyes open, heart racing, goosebumps layered on arms. After just waking up from a nightmare, ever wondered why you experienced that scary dream instead of a ‘normal’ one? The causes of nightmares versus normal dreams vary. 

     Everyone dreams, yet not all people remember them. “An average person has over 1,460 dreams a year, which is about [four] dreams every night,” according to Winston Medical Center

     The same article mentions how “when we go to sleep and enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement), our bodies become completely paralyzed as areas of the brain that control movement are deactivated.” 

     The National Cancer Institute defines REM as “the phase of sleep in which most dreams occur. During rapid eye movement sleep, a person’s brain activity, breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increase, and the eyes move rapidly while closed. The muscles in the arms and legs become temporarily unable to move. Rapid eye movement sleep is thought to play an important role in memory and learning. During normal sleep, a person goes through four to five sleep cycles that last about 90 minutes each and include both rapid eye movement sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep (light to deep sleep). Also called REM sleep.”  

     During the sleeping period, “REM sleep is triggered by a specialized set of neurons that pump activity straight into the brain’s visual cortex, causing us to experience vision even though our eyes are closed. This activity in the visual cortex is presumably why dreams are pictorial and filmic,” describes an article on TIME

     Sophomore Lena Rockhill explains how she remembers her dreams, “most of the time.” Rockhill mentions what influences having a dream versus a nightmare. “[It] may be just what you’ve done throughout your day, or what you think about before bed.” Rockhill says that she does “not often” experience nightmares. She suggests that the reason why a person dreams may be because of “built up brain activity that has nowhere to go.” She continues that nightmares may happen due to “stressing about something or [being] scared about something that’s going on in [someone’s] life, or just having a rough day.” After a nightmare, Rockhill explains that she’ll probably just go on [her] phone” to calm down. 

     TIME goes on to explain how “the defensive activation theory makes some clear predictions about dreaming. For example, because brain flexibility diminishes with age, the fraction of sleep spent in REM should also decrease across the lifespan. And that’s exactly what happens: in humans, REM accounts for half of an infant’s sleep time, but the percentage decreases steadily to about 18% in the elderly. REM sleep appears to become less necessary as the brain becomes less flexible.” 

     Nightmares, on the other hand, may arise for many reasons. “Stress, anxiety, irregular sleep, medications, mental health disorders—but perhaps the most studied cause is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” states Harvard Medical School

     Some believe that dreams and nightmares may be a way your own body is warning you of something, that those dreams have meanings. Although, there isn’t solid evidence of dreams having actual interpretations. 

     Most of our population remembers their dreams and nightmares. Because of REM, we’re able to experience them. Dreaming opens the mind to creativity, memorization, and so much more. Nightmares will happen from time to time due to outside factors or personal beliefs.