I’m so tired today. I was drifting off in class before midday. I didn’t go to bed particularly late, but I did have horrific dreams. Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon occurrence for me. I’ve had a quick look through the literature, and there doesn’t seem to be a number one can put to it in a normal population. Wiki reckons one third of all dreams are negative, but the literature (as bare as it is) seems to indicate otherwise. I think the alternative folk have gotten to that one. At any rate, it’s an under-researched area. Probably because it’s a particularly ‘soft’ topic, and everyone whines about the validity of the self-report data and all that. Some folks have gotten out there and hit up sleepers with EEG’s and other psychophysiological measurements, but that’s not really what I’m interested in.
A Nightmare, as it follows in the research, is a dream characterized by negative emotions that awakens the dreamer. A Dysphoric Dream is a dream characterized by negative emotions that doesn’t awaken the sleeper . These are generally referred to as Disturbed Dreams (Schredl, 2003). Mostly these have been studied in normal young children, who seem to have Nightmares at a higher frequency than all other age groups. There’s a reasonable amount of literature on Nightmares and the such in PTSD sufferers, but I’ve ignored that – largely because I don’t suffer from PTSD.
At any rate, the limited and credible data I found seems to suggest that nightmares are due to high levels of neuroticism during wakeful hours (uhh, not me…) (Schredl, 2003), or reflect negative emotions during wakefulness (Schredl, 2003). There are also mixed results suggesting that Somatic Distress (‘sleep problems’) also might, maybe, could have a role to play in the frequency of nightmares (Levin, Lantz, Fireman & Spendlove, 2009). It’s true that when I am stressed I have nightmares more frequently, but that’s pretty much in-line with the folk wisdom – and also on a continuum with the PTSD crowd – so no great surprise there. Again, there doesn’t seem to be much in the literature identifying why dreams are remembered – but a friend who worked in a sleep lab (Psyc Hons; Currently Masters) said that dreams are recalled when you wake during REM sleep (no citation, utterly unscientific). If that’s the case, it seems that nightmares (by definition) will be remembered more often than pleasant dreams (since one is less disturbed and less likely to wake) and may have nothing to do with neuroticism.
At any rate, the kooks have cornered the dream world in the literature, and now it appears less than credible to research them. Why is that the Freudians and the Jungians seem to overlap so much with the Psychiatrists? The people who believe in collective unconscious and repressed sexuality also prescribe us drugs. That doesn’t seem balanced.
Speaking of drugs – they use hypnotic and anti-depressive drugs to repress some dreams (in PTSD sufferers). One article I came across was looking at the effects of Nabilone on suppressing nightmares – the first of it’s kind. Nabilone, for the interested, is synthetic THC – commonly Marijuana.
That leads to the most obvious experiment one could conduct, were it not for the illicit nature of the experiment. Besides, when my nightmares are absent, I kind of miss them. Though, I do miss a good night’s sleep, too. Maybe if there was a bit more real science out there I could draw some more meaningful conclusions.
It’s a shame this one has been surrendered to the kooks – it seems to me there’s a lot of very interesting neuro-related stuff out there, not to mention the very important work regarding PTSD.
FYI, ‘Dream Therapist’ scores 2.6 million hits on Google.
Fraser, G. (2009). The Use of a Synthetic Cannabinoid in the Management of Treatment-Resistant Nightmares in PTSD. CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, 15, 84 – 88.
Levin, R., Lantz, E., Fireman, G., & Spendlove, S. (2009). The Relationship Between Disturbed Dreaming and Somatic Distress: A Prospective Investigation. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, 197, 606 – 612.
Schredl, M. (2003). Effects of State and Trait Factors on Nightmare Frequency. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 253, 241 – 247.
Tags: dreams, kooks, sleep