Nightmares, Night Terrors and ‘The Old Hag’ in Dreams

Nightmares are otherwise terrifying dreams which may even cause you to wake up. There are a number of different reasons for nightmares including medication, lack of sleep, changes in diet but they will often acknowledge that you are going through a period of stress when they occur. Some people may have had nightmares for a long time, others will only experience them after a traumatic event.  A room being too hot can cause a nightmare (hence one of the reasons you wake up sweating). Your bedtime routine will also play a key role in the quality of your sleep – and dreaming.

Remember, dreams – including nightmares – are good for you. Nightmares are trying to get your attention, asking you to acknowledge a particular emotion, event or situation which has been getting the better of you, so that you can take positive action.  If your dreams are affecting your sleep, have a chat with your doctor to see how they can help.

Top Tips for Managing Nightmares

* Acknowledge the role that stress is playing in your life. Are you taking on too much? If so, how can this be managed?

* Learn to delegate tasks to other people and say ‘no’ when people are asking too much of you.

* Practice a relaxation technique such as focused breathing. You can do this sat at your desk at work. Sit quietly, taking a breath in to the count of five, and exhale to the count of five. Do this three or four times then relax your breathing to its normal pattern. Focus only on your breathing during this exercise.

* Make the hour before bedtime yours. Listen to some calming music or have a nice, warm bath. No TV, no computer – just relaxation.

* Remember to write your nightmares down and explore the message being offered in your dream diary. Perhaps consult with a close friend or a qualified professional to help you understand their meaning.

* Speak to your doctor if your nightmares are adversely affecting your sleep or general wellbeing.

Nightmares are subjective, so what some people find scary other people don’t. The key is understanding the message being offered so you can use this information for your personal benefit. The underlying theme with a lot of nightmares is a fear or anxiety over something. What are you frightened of and how is your dream trying to convey this to you?

Are night terrors the same as nightmares?

No. Night terrors occur during a different stage of sleep to nightmares which is why someone having a night terror is often harder to wake, as they are in a deeper sleep. Night terrors are more common in
children, particularly of a young age (between 2 – 4 years old). One theory is that they are temper tantrums during sleep; what a child can’t articulate at such a young age, they are forced to express during sleep. If you’re worried about your child’s night terrors, have a chat with them about anything which may be on their mind in a language they would understand or speak to your doctor or health visitor if their sleep becomes a problem.

A small percentage of people continue their night terrors in to adult hood. The most common thought for night terrors in adults is stress related, so again it’s worth looking at the role stress plays in your

What is Old Hag syndrome?

This is the sensation usually described when you wake up but can’t move and sense a presence in the room. The most common theory for this scenario is that the sleep paralysis, present during Rapid Eye  Movement (the stage of sleep most commonly associated with dreaming) continues in to waking. The name is thought to derive from old folk tales where a “witch” or evil spirit was believed to rest upon the body of the dreamer (usually the chest) whilst asleep. The experience can be accompanied by hallucinations, hence the feeling that something is watching you. It can be a frightening sensation but it is most likely to be a stress response. Take a look at the role of stress in your life and how it can be managed and, if it becomes a problem, pop along to see your doctor.

About Delphi Ellis

Qualified Counsellor, Mental Health and Well-Being Trainer, and Mindfulness Practitioner. Creator of Monday Mojo™. Talks 'Lady Business', raising awareness of factors which predominantly affect Women's Mental Health like pregnancy and domestic abuse. Helping to improve the global conversation, and bring an end to stigma and shaming. Dream Explorer as seen on the telly. Avid tea drinker.

1 Comment

  1. […] If you’re not sleeping well, you won’t be dreaming well either.  According to the Great British Sleep Survey as many as one in two of us can suffer from insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep) in their life time.  Poor sleep is often a symptom of stress so if you have a lot on your mind, setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep will be valuable but don’t fall in to a trap of relying on sleeping pills.  Make the hour before sleep yours by listening to some calming music and having a nice warm bath before bedtime.  Having problems with nightmares?  Click here. […]

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