“…A nightmare is a dream occurring during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that results in feelings of strong terror, fear, distress or extreme anxiety…”¹
It doesn’t seem so bad when I look at the definition of it sitting innocuously on the screen of my laptop, but it was enough to snap me out of a pretty sound sleep, and take me from the comfort of my bed on a quick tour of my apartment checking for whatever it was that had awakened me this time. Of course I find nothing, and though I know that I’m going to find exactly that even before I begin, I still move very slowly, with a great deal of trepidation, so at some level at least, the sense that I’m not alone is very real indeed. Even turning on the lights to chase away the shadows doesn’t entirely bring with it a sense of safety; that will only come after a physical search has convinced me once again of my isolation. There really is safety in numbers, but for myself, that number is one. I should stress once again that even though it changes from dream to dream, I do recall clearly what I’m hunting for in my apartment with each waking. Unlike normal dreams that I tend to forget when I wake, nightmares stay with me for quite awhile, and when I wake, it’s like, right now. There is no slow progress from sleep to wakefulness like I would have on a normal day; with a nightmare, I snap awake instantly, certain that the subject that was terrorizing me in my dream is now with me in the physical realm, intent on continuing whatever he/she/it was up to before my fear/embarrassment/humiliation woke me up.
Whenever I have one of these things, and once I settle down a bit (after checking out the apartment), there are two thoughts that tend to occupy my consciousness with their relentless repetitiveness, and their sheer uselessness, since nothing good is actually accomplished by having, or dwelling on either of them. The first thought is kind of a reprimand for actually having a nightmare in the first place, as though I had in some way some kind of control over whether or not they occurred. The second thought stems from the first, and is basically an attempt to convince myself that these nightmares should have stopped long before I reached the age of 57, and the fact that I’m still having them just means I’m not trying hard enough to stop them. Needless to say, both of these thoughts bring with them a certain amount of embarrassment, or shame, and I’m not so sure that that in itself doesn’t somehow contribute to their frequency and staying power.
So just how common is this disorder, and when exactly is it called a disorder by the medical profession? It seems that modern research tells us that 50% of adults have occasional nightmares, but as long as they remain “occasional” they really don’t represent a medical disorder. Before being recognized as a disorder, commonly referred to as “Nightmare Disorder” the following criteria would have to be met:
- Repeatedly wakes up with detailed recollection of long, frightening dreams centering around threats to survival, security or self-esteem, usually occurring in the second half of sleep or nap period.
- Becomes oriented and alert instantly upon awakening.
- Results in distress or impairment of occupational, social or other important areas of functioning.
- Symptoms are not caused by general medical condition or by use of medications or other substances.¹
As opposed to the 50% of adults who will have occasional nightmares, only 1% will match the above-listed criteria and need to seek medical help. NOTE: There will certainly be exceptions to this estimate, and anyone experiencing difficulties in their lives as the result of recurring nightmares should seek medical attention whether they meet the other criteria on this list or not.
At any rate, it seems I may have found another treatment for nightmares that works because since I’ve been writing this post, I’ve started to feel a whole lot better, and from the amount of yawning I’m doing, I may even be able to get back to sleep. So for those of you just getting up, I hope you have a great day, and for those of you who won’t be up for a while yet, I’m really jealous. Here’s hoping that I can manage to get at least a couple more hours sleep, and then I’ll see you all when I get back up. Until then…