The Influence of Nightmares on Young People

Term Paper, 2001

7 Pages





1. Fundamental Knowledge
1.1. Fundamental Knowledge about Sleep
1.1.1. Non rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM)
1.1.2. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM)
1.2. Fundamental Knowledge about Dreams

2. Causes of Nightmares

3. Symbolic Language in Dreams
3.1. Some Symbols of our Dreams
3.1.1. Blood
3.1.2. Colours
3.1.3. Cross
3.1.4. Heaven
3.1.5. Money
3.1.6. Sea

4. Influence of Nightmares
4.1. Help after a Nightmare

List of References


I am sure that almost everybody had been confronted with a bad dream or a night mare. Nightmares can be defined as vivid and awful dreams of fear. They often deal with persuasion or threat. If you wake up after a nightmare you are able to give a detailed description of your dream.

That is the difference to night fears (pavor nocturnus). A suddenly frighten up from your sleep is a typical form of night fears. It often starts with moaning or a loud yell. Re spiration and heart rate quicken dramatically. After five to ten minutes this phase ends and there are no memories to that situation. The time when night fears take place is always the first third of a night's sleep.

Nightmares occur almost every time in contrast to night fears in the last third of the night. They never happen in NREM sleep. Nightmares occur more frequently in infancy. Specially children in the age between five and seven are more often confronted with nightmares. Occasional nightmares in that age are harmless. If children have serious problems with sleeping it would be better to consult a Psychotherapist.

1. Fundamental Knowledge

If you want to examine the causes and influences of nightmares you must have some idea of a normal night's sleep. Our knowledge of sleep are based upon the results of various examinations and experiences with hundreds of test persons.

1.1. Fundamental Knowledge about Sleep

Sleep means the body's change from activity to recreation. Sleep gives the body a chance to repair muscles and other tissues, to replace aging or dead cells. It is the brain's chance to organize and archive memories. Dreams are a part of this process. There are two important changes in ventilatory control and mechanics that normally accompany sleep:

1. The Ventilatory activity of all respiratory muscles including the upper airway is reduced.
2. During REM sleep there is generalised inhibition of skeletal muscles.

Sleep is not homogeneous and is conventionally divided into phases:

1.1.1.Non Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (NREM)

That is the quiet and restful phase of sleep. Further it can be divided into four stages. Specially stages three and four represent the deeper levels of sleep. The normal sleep cycle consists of five stages. In Stages one to four heart rate and respiration become slower.

1. Stage one is the initial stage upon falling asleep. It consumes about 2-5% of a normal night sleep.
2. Stage two follows stage one and composes about 45-55% of a normal night sleep.
3. Stage three and stage four represent the deeper levels of sleep. They are required to refresh the brain. Sleep on stage three is also called the first of the "slow wave sleep" stages because brain activity slows down. Stage three is together with stage four required to refresh the brain.
4. Stage four is similar to stage three. The brain activity slows dramatically. Stages three and four combined are called "slow wave sleep" (SWS) and consume together 13-23% of a normal night sleep.

1.1.2.Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM)

The fifth stage is REM sleep. It is a very active stage of sleep. If you are watching a person sleeping in this stage, their eyes are moving rapidly. There is generalised inhibition of skeletal muscles which prevents you from acting out dreamed actions in reality. Breathing, heart rate and brain wave activity quicken suddenly. REM sleep is the stage where vivid dreams can occur.

One sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and is repeated about four to six times per night. After passing stage five the body returns to stage two and the cycle starts to continue. The minimum amount of sleep that can be tolerated varies between individuals, but it is about six to seven hours.

1.2. Fundamental Knowledge about Dreams

Nowadays we know that everybody dreams. With help of the test results of the brain activity scientists are able to differ between each sleep stages and when dreaming starts. The summarized results of the experiment about dreams are:

1. During one night you are dreaming three to four times with interruptions of thirty minutes.
2. The phase of dreaming is short. It lasts about one to ten minutes and starts always with typical eye movements. (REM sleep)
3. If you are kept off of dreaming you may have hallucinations during the daytime. The result of about seven days without dreaming are depressions and a complete psychical breakdown.
4. If you get regular waken up during the calm and quiet NREM sleep (without dreams) you may be tired the next day but there are no further psychical consequences. Therefore you can differ between the sleep that is needed for the body's recreation and dreaming. Dreams are necessary for your psychical balance.

2.Causes of Nightmares

If you want to rid yourself of nightmares you have to have a look at your problems during the day. The things we are afraid of during the daytime often turn up again in our nightmares. It appears that some people deal with their daytime fears in their dreams. Nightmares often represent some daytime problem. If a child dreams about a monster that beats him, he can learn how to deal with this dream- figure. If a kid is kept bullied during the day, the monster might stay. In this case the problem should be solved by day.

Typical fears of children that may cause nightmares are

a) fear to be abandoned by his parents.
b) fear to be exposured alone on an awful situation.
c) confrontation with violence or thread during the daytime.

The fears become stronger if the child is mocked or punished for his dreams. But also every overdone reaction of tenderness may intensify the child's fear.

Nightmares are the consequences after a traumatically event. If you cannot deal with the problem in real life it often pursues in your dreams. There is always a connection between psychical stress and nightmares. The most frequent form of nightmares results of uneasy experiences during the daytime. Another cause of nightmares or any different form of problems during the sleep are problems with or between the parents, overcharging in school or any further stress situations.

It is not clear if media like TV causes nightmares or if they just offer pictures. But frequent watching violent films supports nightmares.

3.Symbolic Language in Dreams

A symbol is often defined as something that represents something else. Dreamed pictures are often symbols of what we felt. If we use a symbolic language we can express our feelings with the help of pictures. The symbolic language is the only universal language. It is not just important for Psychotherapists to understand it. It can be important to understand the symbols of our dreams for everybody. We can learn from our dreams and so there is a need to understand the dream's language.

There is one common characteristic of dreams: Logic does not rule our dreams. Dreams ignore the laws of time and space. Dead people become alive and passed events happen again. We are able to be at the same time at two different places.

The strange thing in our dreams it that we sometimes remember persons or events that we had almost forgotten. Suddenly they appear like good friends. As long as we dream all these strange attributes seem to be real. A dream is always a present and real experience. But where do we know from if it is a dream or reality? All these exciting experiences disappear immediately when we wake up. Often we are not able to remember our dreams.

Dreams of children and youngsters during or a short time after the puberty are extremely significant dreams. They contain almost every time important symbolic pictures. They are often connected with the further development and life.

3.1. Some Symbols of our Dreams

3.1.1. Blood

Blood is the symbol for vitality. In the middle ages the people believed in the magic power of it. The alchemists were of the opinion that our blood was the home of our soul. Loss of blood in a dream can signal a broken love.

3.1.2. Colours

Our dreams use like modern communication colours as signals for their information. There had been many scientists who had tended to think that our dreams uses only the colours black and white. Nowadays we certainly know that this is wrong. Every colour has specific significance like white traditionally symbolises innocence. In eastern cultures like in china white is the colour of dead and sorrow.

3.1.3. Cross

It shows the four cardinal points. It helps to divide the landscape into areas. The cross also unites the opposites in its centre. It always symbolises system and order.

3.1.4.. Heaven

Heaven is a very positive symbol. It is home of the gods. The picture of the sky in a dream often represents the spirit of one's soul. Clouds and rain often show depressive feelings. The sun is one of the very positive symbols. It is easy to interpret the symbol of the sun. It is always connected with light and energy.

3.1.5. Money

Money also symbolises energy or talents. It represents like in our daily life values. It is positive to find money in your dream. The loss of money always shows the loss or unused talents or skills.

3.1.6. Sea

The sea is the typical picture of the life's origin. In Myths the sea often represents the female opposite to the male heaven. With its depth it shows the collective unconscious. The sea has various significances. The beach informs about problems in your personal or collective unconscious.

4. Influence of Nightmares

The relieving thought after a nightmare often is "thank god, it was just a bad dream". Youngsters and adults are able to differ between dreams and real life. Independently how terrifying a nightmare was we are able to realize it and accept it as a bad dream. Although there is always a connection between a nightmare and your daily life we do not fear that things from our nightmares may happen during the daytime. It would be terrible if we had to fear to meet the monsters and bad guys from our nightmares down on the street.

Parents often try to calm their child after a nightmare or nocturnes panic attacks with the words "everything is ok, it was only a dream". It seems surprising but in most cases it does not help. Why not? The important fact is parents often fail to notice that children are not able to differ between dream and reality until the age of six or seven. Everything what happens in a dream happens in their real life. They are convinced that their dreams take place in their room. Until a nightmare had occurred they had felt save in their room. Now they fear that the terrifying events of their dreams may happen in their save environment.

Edgar Allan Poe committed suicide because of his terrifying nightmares. But we must not forget that he suffered from depressions too. The nightmares where only the result of his daytime problems. We cannot do anything against nightmares if we do not change our real life. It is like an illness. You can heal the symptoms but the disease itself might stay.

4.1. Help after a Nightmare

If you want to help your child after a nightmare it is important to know that overdone tenderness often intensifies the children's fear. It helps to stay calm and to talk hushed.

Further subdued light helps the child to fall asleep again. Sometimes the sentence "I am here with you" works miracles. The nightmare's demons are helpless against the protecting parents. In one child's eyes the parents are enormous powerful. The child needs the confirmation that it had felt fear.

Children can get comforted by the knowledge that his parents are in the adjoining room. It is important to keep the child's awareness that it is not alone. The child must not have the feeling to be left alone.

List of References

Die Traumdeutung; Sigmund Freud; Fischer Verlag

Märchen, Mythen, Träume..Eine vergessene Sprache; Erich Fromm; DVA

So deuten sie ihre Träume richtig; Friedrich W. Doucet; Kremayr&Scheriau Verlag

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The Influence of Nightmares on Young People
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ISBN (eBook)
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Influence, Nightmares, Young, People
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Andrea Bichler (Author), 2001, The Influence of Nightmares on Young People, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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