A study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal showed that nightmares have bigger emotional impact than bad dreams do, and it is not necessary for fear to always be a factor. As a matter of fact, it is mostly not present in bad dreams and in one-third of nightmares. What one actually feels is a mixture of sadness, confusion, guilt, disgust, etc. For their experiment to support this study, researchers got hold of nearly 10,000 narratives of dreams.
Physical aggression is the most frequently reported theme in nightmares. Moreover, nightmares become so intense they will wake you up. Bad dreams, on the other hand, are especially haunted by interpersonal conflicts,” write Geneviève Robert and Antonio Zadra, psychology researchers at the Université de Montréal, in the last issue of Sleep.
“Death, health concerns and threats are common themes in nightmares,” says Geneviève Robert, first author of the article, which formed part of her doctoral thesis. “But it would be wrong to think that they characterize all nightmares. Sometimes, it is the feeling of a threat or a ominous atmosphere that causes the person to awaken. I’m thinking of one narrative, in which the person saw an owl on a branch and was absolutely terrified.”
The questions about why we dream are still unanswered, says Professor Zadra, who has dedicated his researches on sleep disorders for 20 years. There are two hypotheses that may support this question: one being that dreams are a release to the changes of day to day life and another being that they reflect a disturbance of the nervous system. Whatever the reasons are, the scientific community generally is of the opinion that everyone dreams, usually during the stage of sleep called REM cycle. Five to six percent of the population report having nightmares. Most dreamers forget their dreams right away.