The content of our dreams is related to our daytime concerns, but it appears in a more intuitive, more emotional, less linear and non-logical way.
Research does suggest that sleep plays a key role in how and why we make memories and deposit certain information into our long-term memory. According to the Sleep Foundation, our dreams are thought to help us achieve this by consolidating memories, processing emotions, doing some mental management and categorizing our thoughts, feelings and memories.
If the information our brain is recording is distressing, such as information from a disturbing television show, it makes sense that the subsequent dreams would be distressing as well. Stress and anxiety, as well as trauma, substance abuse and sleep deprivation, are well-known triggers of nightmares.
Are nightmares bad for your sleep?
The next time you wake up in a cold sweat from a nightmare, don't panic. If you have these dreams occasionally, they are normal and probably not harmful to your health.
If nightmares, nightmares or night terrors often keep you from getting enough or good enough quality sleep, they may be a cause for concern.
Both nightmares and night terrors involve disturbing content, but nightmares usually feel less real and don't wake you up. On the other hand, nightmares tend to be more vivid and can wake you from sleep, explains Joanne Davis, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the University of Tulsa who specializes in nightmares and sleep problems.
According to the Mayo Clinic, nightmares are only considered a disorder if you have them frequently, at least once a week for a month, or if they interfere with your sleep, mood and daytime functioning.
How much the nightmares affect your daily life and health is up to you. Some people have recurring nightmares that don't affect their daily life at all, while others may find themselves having disturbing thoughts or difficulty sleeping and being unable to sleep for weeks at a time because of nightmares.
If they occur frequently or cause other problems, such as injuries or sleepwalking, it is worth seeking professional help from a behavioral sleep medicine specialist.
What can you do to reduce nightmares?
Whether or not the nightmares you have are severe enough to be classified as a disorder, they can be unpleasant. Try the following tips to reduce them.
Don't watch stressful movies and TV shows before bed.
It's obvious. If you're prone to nightmares after watching "The Squid Game," "American Horror Story" or some other distressing entertainment, don't binge-watch a few episodes before you lay down to sleep.
If you can't stay out of it, then create a buffer zone that allows you to do or watch something to ease your mind before you go to bed. After watching a thriller, play an episode of a comedy to relax.
Create a relaxing atmosphere for sleep. We're not just talking about making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and the right temperature; sleep hygiene also includes creating a calm space for your mind.
Decide if you should spend screen time reading, meditating or journaling. A calming bedtime routine prepares your body and brain for a good night's sleep
Imagine what you want to dream about.
Consider changing the "channel" of your mind, considering that what you think about before you go to bed will permeate your dreams. Instead of drifting off to sleep during a disturbing TV show, focus on what you want to dream about that is pleasant.
Finally, if you can't find relief, seek professional help.