Nightmares are, if nothing else, a great selling point for people to gain an interest in their subconscious. There’s something about waking up shaken and under rested after a nightmare that calls attention to the hidden musings of the id. Personally I think this a very healthy experience, and my assumption on the matter led me to make the statement “It began, as most metamorphosis do, with a nightmare.”
After doing some research, mostly skimming the abstracts of nightmare-related scholarly articles, I discovered that this notion is not necessarily shared by the scientific community. The first results I received oft cited the connection of nightmares as a possible indicator to disorders such as PTSD and schizofrenia (For example this article published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2010. http://www.aasmnet.org/Resources/bestpracticeguides/NightmareDisorder.pdf). This article offers the existence of “nightmare disorder” as a symptom and offers medication options for treatment. According to the article 80% of PTSD sufferers report nightmares related to their disorder. Nightmare disorder is said to affect 4% of the U.S. adult population and potentially cause sleep avoidance, deprivation and the exacerbation of underlying psychiatric distress and illness.
Is the nightmare itself a disorder? I would contend that the nightmare is less a disorder in and of itself as opposed to the projection of an underexposed psychological weakness. Whether this indicates a disorder or simply insomniac tendencies is something to be addressed on a case by case basis. I think the labeling of “nightmare disorder” deserves careful critique due to the risk of over diagnosis.
Another study, More Than Just a Bad Dream by Frederik Joelving, proposes that nightmares may make the dreamer more susceptible to anxiety as opposed to acting as an “emotional release.” A major point of this article is that those who report troubled sleep fall prey to anxiety easier than even those who experience troubled real life events like the divorce of parents. Joelving cited an article about REM sleep deprivation by Tore Nielsen, director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal, as evidence of his point. In this study those deprived of REM interestingly showed better adaptation to negative-emotion inducing photos overnight, a point which Joelving expands upon to say that dream-states don’t necessarily make a person more resilient.
Were I able to read the full article I would feel more confident about my response to it, but here is my first impression. I appreciate the attempt to gather some hint at the association between nightmares and anxiety using meta-analysis but I feel the studies used don’t justify the topic of the paper. Joelving cautions at the lack of proof of a casual relationship between the two factors at the end but the overall message of no REM being better than REM with nightmares seems too dismissive to me.
What do you think about the role of nightmares? Purposefully jarring messages from a concerned id? Or anxiety-inducing affliction on a roaming mind?
Dream on little dreamers,