1-How do you define disturbing dreams?
Disturbing dreams are vivid dreams marked by intense negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger. Disturbing dreams, including nightmares and bad dreams, is among the most frequently reported symptoms exhibited by trauma victims which is a type of sleeping disorder. These disturbing dreams can persist for years and even decades after trauma exposure. Unfortunately, scary dreams like nightmares tend to follow traumatic experiences. They are frightening, disturbing, inconvenient, and happen when you are supposed to be rejuvenating your body and brain.
2-What's the percentage of individuals, who experienced trauma, struggle with reoccurring nightmares?
In general, nightmares are prevalent. Between 4 and 10% of the population have nightmares weekly. However, after experiencing a traumatic event, nightmares are even more common (Newsom, 2020). According to Leskin et al. (2002), people who had experienced traumatic events had a significantly higher rate of sleep problems. They found that 96% of participants in their study experienced nightmares, and 100% experienced insomnia.
One study of sexual assault survivors had a nightmare frequency greater than five times per week (Krakow et al., 2002). Another study examined individuals, 40 years after they experienced traumatic events, found they experienced repeating nightmares and had more mental health symptoms than those with non-repeating nightmares (Schreuder et al., 2000). Another study looked at college students who reported having frequent nightmares were twice as likely to have experienced childhood traumatic events, including physical and sexual abuse (Duval et al., 2013).
3-Why do these nightmares occur?
Many theories suggest that dreams often reflect what we saw and felt while awake. Research indicate that after a traumatic event, it is common to have nightmares or dreams that can trigger anxiety. In addition, the content of these disturbing dreams often incorporates similar feelings and sensations to those experienced during the trauma (Newsom, 2020).
4-What determines if a person will experience a nightmare or when nightmares will occur?
I do not know of any studies that look at when nightmares will occur. However, some studies examine the effects of trauma on reoccurring nightmares. For example, here are two studies. 1) Consider the study entitled "Sleep disturbances and nightmares in victims of sexual abuse with posttraumatic stress disorder: an analysis of abuse-related characteristics." The research investigated factors that contributed to sleep disturbance for those who experienced sexual abuse. They concluded that the person's age during the abuse contributed to the severity of distress associated with nightmares. In contrast, the number of perpetrators a person encountered contributed to the frequency of nightmares. For example, adult victims who experienced sexual abuse during childhood or adolescence reported higher levels of distress associated with nightmares than did victims abused during adulthood. Additionally, victims assaulted by multiple offenders exhibited higher frequencies of nightmares than those by a single offender. Individuals who experienced abuse during childhood or adolescence predicted more significant distress associated with nightmares. Individuals who were abused by multiple perpetrators had more frequent nightmares. Overall, repeated abuse was associated with the worst sleep quality. 2) In a study entitled "Nightmare Frequency, Nightmare Distress, and Psychopathology in Female Victims of Childhood Maltreatment." The research investigated the relationships between the history of childhood maltreatment, the frequency of disturbing dreams, their associated distress, and the presence of psychopathology in 352 undergraduate females. The finding suggested the women who reported more severe forms of maltreatment experienced higher frequencies of disturbing dreams, higher levels of nightmare distress, and greater psychopathology.
5- Are there any meaning behind those nightmares or disturbing dreams?
For years, people have been trying to place meaning behind their dreams. Some people go to great lengths to search for the interpretation of their dreams. Unfortunately, there are so many confusing and false theories surrounding the interpretations of nightmares and dreams. For example, the history of psychology is full of people like Freud and Jung psychotherapists who place great significance in interpreting dreams. Hartmann (1996) provides yet another view on dream interpretation. His theory suggests that the function of the dream is to allow the brain to make connections more efficiently and effectively than the conscious mind. In other words, when one is dreaming, the brain reviews information that has been observed and then sorts and organizes it in a way that makes sense. Hartmann (1998) also suggests that dreams allow the brain to work through trauma. He believes that a person's dream can depict their emotions during or after trauma takes place. There are so many other beliefs and interpretations of dreams. Be careful not to focus, dwell, or embrace theories that place too many significant meanings to nightmares and dream.
Study the life of Joseph in the Bible. When individuals asked him for the interpretation of their dreams, consider his response. Genesis 40:8, "And they said unto him, we have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God?" When Pharaoh also felt his dream meant something, and he too asked Joseph about the meaning. Genesis 41:15-16, "And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it." And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying," It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." If you believe your dreams have essential meaning, like Joseph, ask God in prayer.
6-Are there other things that can contribute to sleep disturbances or nightmares?
1. What you eat can impact your sleep.
2. What you watch, such as scary movies, novels, or watching negative news stories, can impact your sleep.
3. Your thought pattern can impact your rest. Negative thought patterns can prevent you from having a good night's rest.
4. Unresolved situations can prevent you from restful sleep. Try not to go to bed angry.
7- What should you do if you are experiencing reoccurring disturbing dreams- nightmares caused by trauma?
Here are seven things to consider:
1. Check your nutrition and the time you eat. Eating too late is known to cause sleep disturbances.
2. Implement a reasonable, doable exercise plan – Those who exercise sleep better at night.
3. Stay away from the liquor and other strong drink, and drink plenty of water. According to the London Sleep Centre, "Alcohol may seem to be helping you sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall, it is more disruptive to sleep." In addition, the more a person drinks before bed, the stronger the disruption occurs. (Mann, 2013).
4. Get in the habit of taking deep breaths of fresh air. Fresh air helps to clear your brain and relax the nerves.
5. Create good bedtime habits and schedule – Avoid leaving the lights or the tv on at night. Try going to bed at the same time every night. For better sleep, keep your room cool and dark. Crack your window so that fresh air can continue to circulate in your room.
6. Deal with the issues caused by trauma when you're awake so that your brain rest can be peaceful. Then, face your trauma head on.
7. Trust God's plan. He can give you the peaceful rest your need. Repeat Biblical promises like Matthew 11:28-30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Psalm 4:8 ESV "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
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Duval, M., McDuff, P., & Zadra, A. (2013). Nightmare Frequency, Nightmare Distress, and Psychopathology in Female Victims of Childhood Maltreatment. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201(9), 767–772.
Hartmann, E. (1996). Outline for a theory on the nature and functions of
dreaming. Dreaming, 6(2), pp 147-170.
Hartmann, E. (1998). Nightmare after trauma as a paradigm for all dreams: A new approach
to the nature and functions of dreaming. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 61(3), pp223-238.
Krakow, B., Schrader, R., Tandberg, D., Hollifield, M., Koss, M. P., Yau, C. L., & Cheng, D. T. (2002). Nightmare frequency in sexual assault survivors with PTSD. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 16(2), 175–190.
Leskin, G. A., Woodward, S. H., Young, H. E., & Sheikh, J. I. (2002). Effects of comorbid diagnoses on sleep disturbance in PTSD. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 36(6), 449–452.
Mann, D. (2013, January 18). Alcohol and a Good Night’s Sleep Don’t Mix. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20130118/alcohol-sleep
Newsom, R. (2020, December 11). How Trauma Can Affect Dreams: How to Cope. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/dreams/how-trauma-can-affect-dreams
Schreuder, B. J. N., Kleijn, W. C., & Rooijmans, H. G. M. (2000). Nocturnal re-experiencing more than forty years after war trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 13(3), 453–463.
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