Dreams are flaky enough, and nightmares are worse. But even if you have nightmares, are they bad for you?
They could be. In an article “Nightmares Are Scary. But Are They Bad For Your Health?” by Markham Heid (http://time.com/5287932/are-nightmares-bad-for-you/?), Michael Nadorff, an assistant professor of psychology at Mississippi State University and director of the school’s Sleep, Suicide and Aging Laboratory, says “When you have a lot of nightmares, that can lead to stress and insomnia.” (One a night is considered a lot.) Nightmares can lead to startled wake-ups, which are also bad. “For people who have significant nightmare problems, it’s also common is for these individuals to actively try to avoid sleep in order to avoid having nightmares. When they do have [a nightmare], they often don’t sleep for the rest of the night.”
Of course, losing sleep is serious and can lead to a range of health issues, including depression and heart disease. In fact, nightmares often occur more in people with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Nadorff has published research linking nightmares to suicidal thoughts and attempts. This suggests nightmares are more than a side effect.
But there is also a positive aspect. Research has found that nightmares can help some people learn to better manage stress. They may also act as exposure therapy, which is how many phobias are treated. Exposure therapy simply means learning to control a fear by facing it in a safe setting. It’s possible nightmares may allow a person’s brain to relive the event and move past it. But there are no guarantees. Your brain may conclude that the solution to a problem is running away.
So if you have recurring nightmares, it’s best to seek professional help; treatment can lead to significant sleep improvements. The article concludes with a couple of treatment options. The bottom line is facing the source of your fear seems to be the best way to regain control. The trick is finding a way to accomplish that.