Dreams are strange, aren’t they? You get into bed, shut your eyes, and then in what seems like a couple of seconds, you’re soaring across the English countryside in your pyjamas or sipping tea in London Zoo with Dame Maggie Smith.
The only thing that comes even close to being as weird as our “normal” dreams is the relatively wild realm of the nightmare.
Nightmares vary from person to person, but their main feature is their ability to scare, confuse, distress or disgust us. The fact that they do this is also why they often seem so bloomin’ bizarre. I mean, why does your brain want to scare the bejesus out of you?
The truth of the matter is that your brain isn’t trying to petrify you deliberately. In fact, nightmares and dreams are probably just a result of your brain processing information from your day, along with things like memories and emotions. That’s why your ex from five years ago or that actor you saw in that movie one time can suddenly turn up in your nightmare as an axe-wielding serial killer. Sometimes exes simply suit the role as well.
In light of this, we wondered if there were any positive sides to a scary night’s sleep, so we took to the interweb to find out. Here’s what we learnt:
1) Those who regularly experience nightmares may be more creative
A study conducted in 2015 at the Centre for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine found that people who experienced nightmares at least twice a week provided more creative answers to a word association quiz than those who slept peacefully. For example, those who enjoyed nightmare-free sleep typically responded to words like “joy” with predictable answers like “happy”, whereas those who regularly had nightmares responded to words like “angry” with “red” and “face”.
2) Nightmares may help you to work through your problems
As we said before, dreams and nightmares are often a result of your brain’s mental archiving, where things like recent experiences, fears and worries are filed away in the colossal library that is your mind. Recalling your nightmare when you wake up can turn these abstract worries into memories, and this can help you to work through your problems, because your brain is better at processing memories than vague thoughts and feelings.
3) Nightmares and dreams have physical benefits
REM sleep is one of the most important stages of a good night’s kip, and it’s when most dreams and nightmares happen. During REM sleep, the flow of blood to the brain also decreases and is redirected to the rest of the body, helping muscles and organs to regenerate. The next time then that you’re being chased in your sleep by something creepy like clowns, keep running and remember that you’re actually giving your body an all-over workout. Take that, Bozo!
4) Nightmares can prepare you for the future
Threat simulation theory suggests that nightmares are a defence mechanism. The idea is that nightmares provide a safe place to solve problems and prepare for threatening situations, giving you a better chance of survival if you encounter them in the waking world.
Right, so those are the upsides of bad dreams. The Mattressman team hopes that the next time you wake up from a nightmare, you remember that you’re probably a little bit fitter, saner and better prepared for the future because of it.