I’m a sleep expert – what nightmares say about your life & how to stop them

EVERYONE has dreams and the occasional nightmare, but many people wonder if there is a deeper meaning behind these strange experiences.

However, many popular nightmares have a logical explanation, and they can even be prevented if it begins to affect daily life, experts say.

One sleep expert said dreams can be 'highly meaningful'


One sleep expert said dreams can be ‘highly meaningful’Credit: Getty

Alan Eiser, a psychologist and clinical lecturer, told the Washington Post that dreams have the potential to be “highly meaningful.”

Dreams “deal with the sort of personal conflicts and emotional struggles that people are experiencing in their daily lives,” Eiser told the Post.

Conversely, dream researcher Deirdre Barrett said dreams can be compared to regular thoughts in that a lot are insignificant and can be, “trivial or circular or repetitive.”

Whether meaningful or insignificant, the fact remains that dreaming is a regular part of sleep, as is the much less desirable experience of having nightmares.


According to the Washington Post, nightmares can be triggered by a multitude of factors.

“Some medications, including certain antidepressants, may make dreams more vivid, and some underlying conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, can cause frequent nightmares,” sleep expert David Neubaur told the Post.

For people dealing with frequent nightmares, there are several habits that can improve sleep quality.

Consultant at the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine Bhanu Kolla said that the most researched behavior-based treatment is imagery rehearsal therapy.

This involves attempting to rewrite dreams to make the next nightmare more tolerable.

“Over time, nightmares become a habit,” Kolla told the Post. “It’s something that your brain has learned to do. With this imagery, we trying to get it to learn a new habit and displace that unwanted habit.”

Deirdre Barrett additionally said you can focus on what you want to dream about.

“This has the further side benefit of making falling asleep a slightly pleasanter experience,” she said.


Many people have dreams where they are trying to run or scream, but they can’t.

This makes sense as during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the body’s voluntary skeletal muscles are paralyzed.

Barrett said it is possible that these sensations during this common nightmare are related to the skeletal muscles being paralyzed.

Similarly, many people have had an experience where they are unable to move or even see after waking up from a nightmare.

This is the common phenomenon called sleep paralysis, and it is the lingering effects of REM sleep that Barrett explained.

Sleep paralysis can even lead to hallucinations where people believe they are seeing something that was just in a dream.

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This comes at sleep analyst Jane Teresa Anderson sat down with the Sun to discuss the top ten more common nightmares and what they mean.

And this expert reveals a sleep-related action that can prevent big problems from occurring later in life.

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