Waking up to a nightmare is often something people want to forget, but these frightening and often disturbing dreams can actually have benefits.
According to a video feature on the "good side of bad dreams" created by New York Magazine, nightmares can help mental health. By creating a memory of an experience (even if that experience only occurred in a dream), the video explained, your brain thinks of these fears more as some part of the past and "something you don't need to panic about in the present."
"Nightmares actually help distance you from your fears," the narrator stated.
The International Association for the Study of Dreams explained that nightmares can be caused by a variety of things — drugs, medications, illness, fever, traumatic events, stress and personality. Almost everyone experiences nightmares at one point or another, starting in childhood and becoming less frequent in adulthood, according to IASD. Only about 5 to 10 percent of adults report having at least one nightmare a month.
"Adults' nightmares offer the same opportunity as other dreams for self-exploration and understanding," IASD stated. "With practice, the dreamer can often learn to decode the visual and symbolic language of the dream and to see relationships between the dream and waking life. The nightmare by nature is distressing, however, and the dreamer may need to reduce the distress before looking more closely at the meaning of the dream. Some techniques for reducing the distress of the nightmare include writing it down, drawing or painting it, talking in fantasy to the characters, imaging a more pleasant ending, or simply reciting it over several times. The more relaxed the dreamer can be while using these techniques the better."
A study published a few years ago suggested that "normal dreaming serves a fear-extinction function and that nightmares reflect failures in emotion regulation."
Also interesting, ISAD stated that some people who experience nightmares do not find them frightening at all.
"Research has shown that about half of people who have quite frequent nightmares regard them as fascinating and creative acts of their minds, and either view them as very interesting or dismiss them as 'just dreams,'" the association stated. "This illustrates the fact that one's attitude toward nightmares is quite important."
Nightmares could become a health issue if they are chronic and interfere with a person's sleep or if they are more severe and categorized as night terrors.
Watch New York Magazine's video about nightmares:
(H/T: Huffington Post)