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science of nightmares

Sadly or luckily, the brain is not like Netflix or a TV, it doesn’t just turn off when you are idle or go to sleep. Especially not when you are dreaming or having a nightmare.

But, enlighten us science! What is the reasons we’re having nightmares?

So, brain really does works all the time. There are different types of activity in completely different areas of the brain when we are awake vs. when we sleep.

During sweet dream sleep, the emotional brain remains online even when our bodies are long gone offline.

The frontal cortex, the area that helps us make sense of images and control them, is far less active and pumped up during the sleep.

What does it “do” to us during a dream state, then? — Well, when we have this intense emotional brain activity aka dreaming, the brain doesn’t know how to make sense of it, and random negative mental images can come up. Dun dun dun — here’s Johny!


Definition time. Scientists define nightmare as a dream which causes us to wake up in the middle of the REM sleep cycle and experience a deep negative emotion, such as fear, cofusion, anxiousness, sadness, or even anger.

The word “nightmare” is derived from “mare”, a demon or a goblin — malicious something something — from Germanic and Slavic folklore that rides on people’s chests while they sleep, bringing on haunting dreams: nightmares.

Fast btw fact: REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes after first falling asleep and then again every 90 minutes throughout the night, and eventually, if you’re lucky, REM lasts longer as the night goes on.

And there’s the infamous amygdala, the meka for them nightmares.
Neuroimaging studies of the dreaming brain show the super active amygdala during REM.
With amygdala in lifted up state, instead of thinking in literal terms and words our brain is making us to “think” in pictures, symbols and emotions — or simply put, metaphors. The amygdala over-reacts during our REMs and that is the reason why and how we’re handling negative mentions such as fear and aggression as we are (bad) dreaming.
No one knows exactly why we dream, but experts have speculated dreams are the mind’s way of making sense of the random signals that occur during REM sleep when proteins are being made.
Millenniums ago, dream was a survival mechanism, but now, many nightmares are the result of dwelling on feelings like sadness, guilt, or anxiety.
Nightmares probably evolved to make us anxious about potential dangers. Even post-traumatic nightmares, which could just re-traumatize us, may have been useful in ancestral times when a wild animal that had attacked you, or a rival tribe that had invaded might well be likely to come back.
With the modern dangers of house fires, car crashes, rapes and muggings unlikely to repeat soon for the same victims, this adaptive mechanism doesn’t always serve us well.
  1. Fear is not the most common emotion in a nightmare; rather, confusion, guilt, and sadness are most common. What’s more, these emotions tend to stick with you longer than if your dream is fear-based.
  2. The study showed that the participants experienced abnormal sleep architecture and that the results of having a nightmare during the night were very similar to those of people who have insomnia. This means that, like insomniacs, people who have nightmares do not get as much rest as those who do not have chronic nightmares.
  3. Physical aggression is the most reported theme in nightmares.
  4. Being too warm at night can trigger nightmares. Experts suggest the reason for this is because heat triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, a mechanism linked to survival and heightened anxiety/anticipation.
  5. Gamers are more likely to be able to turn a nightmare into a regular dream during sleep. Bam. Kudos to those lucid dreamers gamers <3
  6. Most people have experienced nightmares, but this kahm, “phenomenon” seems to occur quite commonly while we are kiddos between the ages of 3 to 6. This may be because this is the age at which normal fears develop and a child’s imagination is very active. If nightmares occur repeatedly, the possibility of a nightmare disorder should be considered..
  7. For humans, rats are often the stuff of nightmares, but it seems that the rodents may be as likely to experience bad dreams themselves as they are to star in ours. In a new study in Nature Neuroscience, researchers placed rats in a maze and allowed them to explore. At a certain point in the maze, the scientists blasted the animals in the face with a bit of compressed air from a keyboard cleaner—a harmless but uncomfortable experience for the rats. Later, as the researchers monitored the animals sleeping, they could see patterns of connectivity in the rats’ hippocampi corresponding to their mental map of the maze.
  8. There a few common symbols in nightmares, such as death, murder, or free-falling.


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heyo. I’ve been contemplating for a while on this one. – after many years of sleeping three to four hours a night, I’m finally safe to say — I am sleeping like a baby koala (it, on average, sleeps 22 hours a day). Less stress, coffee, anxiety and movie all nighters, more love and exercise, and there you go. Together with it, dreams came into my life again. Hello REM! – And the other night, I dreamt the worst dream I ever had in my entire life. – The day after, I was sad and weird, anxious and kinda scared. But. Having it as my dream truly helped me. – A nightmare helped me! It led me to believe that nightmares are our brain bulit-in psychotherapy. I learned something new about myself and what the dominant theme of my dream was all about. – Pro tip: lucid dreams, which differ from nightmares and bad dreams, are your natural VR, focus and exercise that, it’s awesome. – But, what does science has to say about nightmares? Something Freudian or…? Dig in, swipe. . . . . #brainfunfacts #funfacts #dreams #nightmare #nightmarefacts #popularscience #neuroscience #neuronenvogue

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