The meaning of nightmares and effective ways to avoid them

Nightmares involving murder, apocalypse or drowning tend to be the most common subjects that adults experience in bad dreams, yet they shouldn’t necessarily give reason to be worried or scared.

Theresa Cheung is a dream expert and bestselling author, who, in collaboration with online bed and mattress retailer, Happy Beds, reveals four of the most common nightmares, the meaning of them and why we have them, as well as a few handy tips on how to avoid these.

“Every single dream is unique and unusual. There is no such thing as a ‘usual’ nightmare, even ones with commonly reported nightmare themes,” she says. 

“These dreams mean that there are feelings or situations in your current waking life which you are having difficulty fully processing. You should not fear nightmares. Think of nightmares as a form of tough love.”

When it comes to the meaning of these dreams, it’s a lot less dramatic than you may think. “Your dreaming mind is using shocking images because it knows you are more likely to recall them and ponder their meaning than everyday dreams.”

Theresa explained what four of the most common nightmares can mean:

  1. Murder 

The dreams in which someone attempts to murder you suggests an unexpected change. More often than not, a change that is being forced upon you or that you are trying to avoid a situation you need to deal with. If, however, someone is else being murdered in your dream, it could mean that you might be experiencing feelings of anger, frustration or fear.

  1. Apocalypse 

When, in your dream, the world is coming to an end, that’s often your subconscious telling you that there’s a shift going in your life. This could be also the need for a fresh start. A different explanation suggests deep feelings that are finally coming to the surface and that you might be worried about what the future may bring.

  1. Teeth falling out 

The nightmare about teeth falling out can mean a few different things. You could be concerned about ageing or your appearance, or even that you have unexpressed anger inside. Alternatively, you could also be experiencing some form of self-confidence issues or are feeling anxious or powerless about a situation.

  1. Drowning 

Some of the most common and stressful dreams are about drowning. They’re usually a sign that you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Water is a great metaphor for our emotions so it may also be our brain giving us a sign that we need to slow down and take a breath.

 

If you’re experiencing nightmares often, here are a few ideas that could help. Katherine Hall, a psychologist in sleep from Somnus Therapy, offered four useful tips to help avoid nightmares:

  • Consistency is essential – Keep your bedtime and wake time as consistent as possible. Consistency is likely to result in more restful and stable sleep, preventing the likelihood of a nightmare-inducing REM rebound from sleep deprivation.
  • Daily relaxation practice – Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can be incredibly useful in helping you to get to sleep and reducing the stress around not being able to sleep. PMR is a form of mindfulness that guides you through tensing each muscle group then relaxing them, to promote a sense of complete body and mind relaxation.
  • Expressive writing – Expressive writing has been shown to enable the writer to better regulate their emotions, as well as helping the writer break free from the endless mental cycling of brooding or rumination. Acknowledging your emotions and writing them down reduces the need for your mind to constantly fight and be in battle with any negative and stressful thoughts.
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol is a REM sleep blocker and causes an overall reduction in REM sleep. When the alcohol starts to wear off it’s not uncommon to experience really vivid dreams or nightmares.

To find out more about the most common dream meanings such as spiders, chasing and falling, click here.

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