Nightmares: Causes and Interpretations

Nightmarish trees at night.
Nightmarish trees at night. | Source

Where do nightmares come from?

Although nightmares are most common among children, they still trouble adults. According to WebMD.com, one out of two adults suffer from them on occasion, while 2-8% have them regularly. Nightmares tend to occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle while we sleep, which occurs right after non-REM sleep and is shorter yet tends to be the time that dreams occur.

While the subject of the nightmare varies for each individual, they all share some common elements. They are vivid, realistic, wake you up from a deep sleep, and can cause a fear that leaves them much more memorable than any happier dreams you may have had that same night.

For the most part, nightmares don't come from any specific source and are just spontaneous. They can come from stress, anxiety, depression, underlying disorders, or past experience such as an attack or accident. Other causes include having a late night snack, withdrawals from alcohol or drugs, and taking certain medications.

If they occur regularly, you may want to speak to a doctor about the possible cause(s) for all of your nightmares so that you can be treated for whatever is bringing them on each night. If they are frequent enough, you may lose sleep and the factor(s) bringing out the bad dreams may worsen instead of get better without treatment. Nightmares have been known to make certain disorders worsen even to the point of suicide so they must be taken seriously when they become regular. What you dream about directly reflects and affects your well being so don't just brush it off. They also may cause obesity, depression, and heart disease, amongst other side-effects.

Nightmare Interpretations

Here are some basic interpretations of the ten most common nightmares:

What do you dream about?

Which nighmare do you suffer from the most?

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1. Lost or Trapped

If you find yourself trapped in a labyrinth of some sort, whether it is in a forest, urban landscape, or elsewhere, that's usually a sign that you are in a situation in life that is asking you to make a resolution but you feel unable to make a choice or final decision. If you want it to stop, just take the time to finally decide what you want or what to do.

2. Falling or Sinking/Drowing

If you're having this nightmare, you probably already suffered from the one above. At this point, you're feeling overwhelmed in a situation that is beyond your control. You feel insecure and probably want to just give up but you must remember that there is always a chance to gain back power over your circumstances. Even in your nightmare, you may take this opportunity to experience lucid dreaming by reminding yourself that you aren't really drowning or falling and that you are just dreaming. Let yourself swim back up to the surface or land safely and turn that bad dream into a good one that is more empowering.

3. Technology Malfunction

This nightmare commonly involves communications technology such as cellphones or computers. They aren't really scary to most of us, but the idea that you cannot reach out to someone or that something is broken and can't be fixed is terrifying. If you're suffering from this bad dream, it may come from a fear of losing touch with someone, that you are losing touch with reality, or that you have a part of the body or mind that isn't functioning properly.

4. Naked

Ah, the naked dream. This one is probably the most common for all ages, especially if you're about to get married. In these dreams, you usually feel ashamed or free. It reflects your self esteem or the the fact that you may be hiding something. In real life, you may be in a situation that may make you feel vulnerable and you fear judgement or rejection.

5. Natural/Manmade Disasters

This type of nightmare is similar to the falling/sinking dreams. You may feel like your world is falling apart and that things are overwhelming and beyond your control. You may also feel lost and powerless. Addressing whatever issue is going on may help prevent this dream from occurring again.

6. Failed Test

It may be surprising to note that this type of nightmare usually occurs to those who aren't students anymore. They fail because they don't have all of their necessary tools, they can't find the room, or they can't finish on time. You may be feeling that you aren't deserving of what you have or that you feel unprepared for anything that may challenge you in some way. If you end up feeling like the grade you got on the test isn't right, you may be feeling unappreciated in the waking world.

7. Lost or Damaged Property

Dreaming of lost or damaged property may come from feeling like you are susceptible to deceit or that something of yours may be at risk. If your nightmare is about a house, take note of the fact that a house represents you. The interior symbolizes your inner self while the exterior is your self image. If the house is damaged in any way, it may reflect feelings of being broken or mishandled somehow.

8. Car Problems

Whether you are the driver or a passenger, nightmares about being in a car that is broken or malfunctioning somehow means that you're feeling powerless or that you are heading in a disastrous direction in life. Cars may also represent yourself, just like a house in the dream above. The appearance of the car represents your own self image while what's under the hood symbolizes your inner feelings. This is why you may find yourself in a nice car that isn't working properly. Perhaps there is an underlying issue you need to address that involves your feelings about who you are.

9. Suffering

Don't worry, if you die in your dreams, you will not die in real life. In these types of nightmares, you are usually suffering from illness, injured, or dying. It could mean that you are emotionally hurt or reflect your illness in the waking world. If someone else dies, it may mean that you are afraid that you have lost a part of that person, that you want them to leave, or that you are afraid to lose them. Remember that death or dying isn't always scary. It could mean that you are making a major change in life. Don't take this type of dream too literally.

10. Being Chased or Attacked

This dream usually stems from a real life threat of some sort. It comes from anxiety that can be caused by everyday stressful situations, such as traffic, or perhaps something worse or less obvious. Pay attention to who is your attacker or what is chasing you. It may bring insight into who or what is making you feel threatened so that you can resolve that issue.

© 2012 LisaKoski

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Comments 7 comments

Molly Torres 4 years ago

Interesting! I seem to always have the being chased or attacked - ever since childhood. Twisted, huh??? LOL


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I enjoyed this read Lisa and I learned a lot! Even if our disturbing dream situations aren't quite the same as in the above examples, we can figure out a similar correlation. I sometimes feel like I have gotten on the wrong bus. I would equate that to the Lost or Trapped example. The worst dreams are being on the wrong bus, naked! Rated up and posted on FB


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

Falling - that's my biggest nightmare and I have had them most of my life. I hate them. Great informative hub.


thewritingowl profile image

thewritingowl 4 years ago from Ireland

Being chased by a bull or going into my final Maths exam and knowing I am not prepared for it and am going to fail. Very interesting Hub.


Dan Barfield profile image

Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

Awesome hub! Very informative :) I often used to have the falling dream. One of the common physiological reasons is oxygen starvation caused by the tongue falling to the back of the throat. You wake up when you hit the bottom in order to force you to change position and open your airways. It's a funny old world eh?


Duncan 2 years ago

Thank you for this hub.

I used to have a dreamo of walking naked and i have been given some guide.

I also have a problem of forgetting dreams as i wake up.


sam 2 years ago

Mine are always about my four year old boy dying. Its soo scary i wake up sobbing please help me :'(

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