An Upside to Nightmares?

I don’t know of anyone who thinks a nightmare can be a good experience.  It’s been a long time (fortunately) since I’ve had one, although I tend to have dreams where I either have to go somewhere or do something and I never quite make it.

But if you’re unlucky enough to be haunted by nightmares, you’ve probably wondered why.  Let me try to help — psychology PhD candidate Michelle Carr, who studies dreams at the University of Montreal’s Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, has explained two dominant theories in a recent article in the magazine New Scientist: one is they’re a reaction to negative experiences that happen when we’re awake.  The other is “threat simulation theory,” or the idea that we have nightmares as a sort of disaster rehearsal, so when the real threat happens we’re more ready for it.

Whether or not they are training for real-life situations, nightmares do have some real benefits, as Carr noted.  One 2013 study, for example, found that frequent nightmare sufferers considered themselves more empathetic.  They also had a greater tendency to unconsciously mirror other people through actions like contagious yawning.  Carr, meanwhile, has found that people who have constant nightmares also tend to think further outside the box on word-association tasks.  Other research has found support for the idea that nightmares might be linked to creativity.  Plus, to balance the scales a bit, Carr’s research has found that people who often have nightmares also tend to have more positive dreams than average.

“The evidence points towards the idea that, rather than interfering with normal activity, people who are unfortunate in having a lot of nightmares also have a dreaming life that is at least as creative, positive and vivid as it can be distressing and terrifying,” she wrote. “What’s more, this imaginative richness is unlikely to be confined to sleep, but also permeates waking thought and daydreams.”  In other words, even after people wake up, a trace stays behind, staying with them throughout the day.

Sweet dreams!

The basic report is at

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