Nighttime offers essential rest and relaxation for the body and brain, allowing for repair and soothing of any damage that has occurred during the day. However, this crucial time can sometimes be disrupted by dreams and nightmares, both natural occurrences experienced by all. Yet, many people struggle to differentiate between the two.
Dreams can be defined as sensations, images, or ideas that involuntarily occur in the mind during different stages of sleep. The rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep is most often associated with dreams and features high brain activity, similar to being awake. These dreams are typically less memorable and vivid. Dream length can vary, and individuals are more likely to remember their dreams if they wake during the REM state. An average person experiences 3-5 dreams per night. Dreams are primarily linked to the unconscious mind and can range from ordinary to bizarre and surreal. The purpose of dreams remains a topic of scientific controversy, with the study of dreams referred to as oneirology.
A nightmare is an unpleasant dream that may cause despair, terror, sadness, or anxiety. Such dreams might involve the individual facing a dangerous situation or being in an uncomfortable or disgusting place, resulting in fear or extreme discomfort. This makes the experience very unpleasant for the person, causing both physical and mental discomfort. Nightmares can be triggered by stress, eating before bed (which increases metabolism and brain activity), anxiety, or illnesses such as fever. An individual who experiences a nightmare may wake up immediately and struggle to fall back asleep, often leading to insomnia. Recurring nightmares may be associated with deeper trauma in an individual’s life and may require medical attention.
- Dreams are sensations, images, or ideas that occur involuntarily in the mind during sleep, while nightmares are unpleasant dreams that cause negative emotions and discomfort.
- Individuals are more likely to wake up startled from a nightmare, whereas this is not necessarily the case for dreams.
- Nightmares can be considered a subcategory of dreams and are often caused by stress, whereas the source of dreams is not yet recognized.