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Nightmares and Night Terrors: How Our Subconscious Affects Our Mental Health

Nightmares and Night Terrors: How Our Subconscious Affects Our Mental Health

Most people wouldn’t think so, but nightmares and night terrors are indicators of someone’s mental health. When we sleep, it signals our body to begin the healing process. It’s why when we are sick or injured, a doctor will recommend plenty of rest and sleep. When we are unconscious, our bodies go to work repairing wounds and battling illnesses.

It’s the same for our minds as well. When we sleep, our minds process what we have experienced throughout the day. That’s why it’s common to dream about something you’ve recently seen or experienced, such as a movie or playing mini-golf. This is a part of our mental health, and our mind needs time to heal just as much as our bodies do.

When we are mentally injured, it can sometimes result in nightmares and night terrors. The difference is that with a night terror, people will often move and talk, not stay asleep. Night terrors are seldom remembered by the individual, but they can be distressing to those around them. Nightmares, or bad dreams, are almost always remembered. Those who have a nightmare tend to awaken in the middle or near the end of them.

Both prevent the individual from getting restful sleep. This can often impact someone’s mental health and prevent them from coping with stress and daily life like they usually would.

Common Mental Health Disorders That Contribute to Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nightmares and night terrors are most commonly the symptoms of trauma. When someone experiences trauma, it affects their nervous system. This can cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, or in some extreme cases, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These disorders often keep those that struggle with them on high alert at all times. Sometimes people who struggle with these mental health disorders have trouble falling asleep. When they do, they often have nightmares and night terrors about the trauma they experienced.

People with depression often experience nightmares as well. Sometimes depression can also stem from trauma, and a person may have nightmares based around these traumas. Often, someone with depression may struggle with feelings of hopelessness. Sometimes they may also struggle with thoughts of suicide. It’s common, for those with depression to have nightmares centered around death or loneliness. A person with depression may oversleep, becoming “trapped” in nightmares that are difficult to wake up from.

Someone with schizophrenia may have their dreams affected by symptoms of psychosis. This can result in upsetting, disjointed dreams that can be very frightening. Due to stigma, many people with this disorder may be frightened of themselves. They may have nightmares of harming themselves or those that they love. The deep fear of themselves and their disorder is often the cause of these nightmares and terrors.

Just about anyone can have a nightmare at any time. They are a normal part of life. It’s especially true for someone who likes to consume scary content, like horror movies or books. However, when nightmares and night terrors become so frequent that you can’t function, it’s time to get help. The best way to get help is through an accredited mental health care facility, like Acera Health.

Why We Experience Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nightmares and night terrors can come about for several reasons. As mentioned above, it’s a common symptom of several kinds of mental health disorders. However, they can also come from stress and interrupted irregular sleep. Sometimes nightmares and night terrors can be a side effect of some kinds of medication. If you started taking a new medication and have suddenly been experiencing sleep problems, it’s probably because of that.

But besides that, we experience nightmares because our brains are constantly working. Sure, we rest when we sleep, but the brain has to continue to run to keep our bodies functioning. When we enter rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, we begin to dream. Science doesn’t know for sure why we dream, but there are a few theories. One is that it helps someone analyze their memories, skills, and habits. Another is that it helps us “rehearse” for various life situations we may face when awake.

When we are anxious, afraid, or mentally hurt, our brains may fixate on that in their attempt to heal themselves. By doing so, it tries to “solve” the negative memory we have, which only causes us pain and terror. When our mental health is poor, we can’t cope with the constant resurgence of traumatic and upsetting memories. This results in nightmares and night terrors.

Getting Help for Your Mental Health

The best source of help is by contacting a mental health care facility, like Acera Health. There, they will not only treat the underlying cause of your sleep troubles but help you learn how to deal with your dreams in general.

It may sound silly, but learning how to lucid dream is often part of treatment plans for those that struggle with nightmares. Lucid dreaming helps you gain control over your subconscious mind. This allows you to create “eject buttons” in your subconscious that can either change the dream or wake you up if it becomes too upsetting.

Mental health care providers can also coach you in practicing healthy sleep hygiene. This involves preparing your body for sleep and maximizing the effectiveness of your rest. It is also part of many treatment plans to help those with difficulty falling asleep achieve a state of rest. Examples of sleep hygiene are abstaining from upsetting media before you sleep, getting your body into a nightly routine, and avoiding screens to help you relax.

Nightmares and night terrors can be serious enough to disrupt the health of your mind and body. Do not feel ashamed for reaching out for help. Nobody who is a mental health professional would ever judge someone for needing help. If you need help reclaiming your subconscious mind, call your local mental health care facility today.

When we sleep, our subconscious mind is in charge. Our subconscious mind is affected by our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. When someone experiences trauma or struggles with a mental health disorder, it can cause nightmares. Nightmares can disrupt our sleep, which affects both our physical and mental health. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we help our clients address the underlying cause of their nightmares through individualized treatment. You can expect to be treated with compassion and respect. We offer holistic methods of treatment, helping you get the healing and rest you deserve. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, don’t wait. Call (949) 647-4090.

LMFT, Program Director at Acera Health | Edited & Medically Reviewed

Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.

Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.


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