The world of sleep has most likely been afflicted by nightmares since the times of the earliest humans. As far back as 10,000 years ago, our ancient cave dwelling ancestors, in what is now Europe, were painting images of half-human half-wolf creatures. At about the same time, the people of ancient Australia there were depicting images of bat-headed men attacking vulnerable humans. One of the likely sources of such imagery was probably a nightmare.
How Common Is It To Have A Nightmare?
Early in childhood, most people will face their first nightmare and by the time we have become teenagers, many of us will be experiencing nightmares weekly. As we leave our teen years, however, nightmares become less frequent, dropping to be 3 times less common at age 55 as compared to when we were 25. On average, roughly 50% of adults report at least an occasional bad dream while about 7-8% of the population will unfortunately experience nightmares regularly.
Stress And Anxiety Are Well Known Causes of Nightmares
While many of us can expect to experience nightmares occasionally, a number of factors can contribute to frightening, vivid dreams being more frequent. By far, the most common cause is stress and anxiety over issues in our daily lives. If we can learn to manage the stress and anxiety, we will likely be able to eliminate the nightmares. While managing these mental issues is by no means a simple exercise, the cause and effect is reasonably well understood. Most people can relate to stress and anxiety being a cause of nightmares.
What Are The Causes Of Nightmares That Are Less Known?
What we generally know less about are other common factors that can cause us to experience nightmares. Both health issues and medications are among the possible reasons that that our sleep time can become terrifying. This means that if you or a loved one suffers from bad dreams, it is helpful to know the 7 common causes of nightmares. It is also important to be aware that the chances of experiencing nightmares from these various causes is increasing.
1) Nightmares Following Sleeping Pill Withdrawal
One of the causes of more frequent nightmares is as a result of withdrawal from sleep aids containing the ingredient benzodiazepine, an older, but commonly prescribed, medication. With insomnia statistics indicating that roughly 20% of the population suffers from insomnia at any given time, it is not surprising that 3-6% of the population uses sleep aids every single night. Unfortunately, regular use of benzodiazepine leads to dependence on the medication.
As a result, coming off the medication for any reason can lead to withdrawal symptoms in patients and these symptoms can last up to 3 weeks. Called benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, one of its symptoms is the experience of nightmares. In most cases however, coming off the medication more slowly can eliminate the nightmares. It is simply important to be aware what is causing the nightmares.
2) Melatonin Supplements And Nightmares During Sleep
Directly related to insomnia and the use of sleep aids, melatonin supplements can also result in nightmares. Melatonin is a naturally occurring human hormone that helps to regulate sleep. Supplements of this hormone are derived from plant and animal sources and are often promoted as “more natural” than other sleep aids. In some people and at higher doses, melatonin can cause nightmares.
Since there is no recommended maximum does for melatonin, some people will work on the principle that “more is better” and take the larger doses that can lead to frightening, vivid dreams. Other people will suffer nightmares simply because of their sensitivity to the hormone. In most cases, reducing the dose can prevent the nightmares.