The silhouette of a young man appears in the middle of a redwood forest.A nightmare is an upsetting or frightening dream.

What is a Nightmare?

Nightmares are common, and some dream studies have shown that about 75% of dreams are negative. The content of nightmares varies greatly from person to person, and may include painful memories, realistic but fear-inducing scenarios, or fantastical scenes of monsters and ghosts. Nightmares are particularly common among children, who frequently dream of frightening but unrealistic scenarios. Among very young children, nightmares can be especially upsetting because they may not understand that the nightmares are not real or that the scenes in the dreams could not happen.

What Causes Nightmares?

Many scientists believe that dreams play an important role in memory, learning, and processing the day’s events. Nightmares are a slight variation on this, and may be a way for people to deal with fears and address trauma. However, some factors make nightmares more likely, including:

  • Eating immediately before bed
  • Watching scary movies or books before bed
  • Thinking negative thoughts before bed
  • Stress and trauma
  • Exhaustion and illness
  • Drugs, medication, and withdrawal

Can Nightmares Be Prevented?

There’s no surefire recipe for preventing nightmares. In children, establishing a regular bedtime routine and encouraging positive thoughts by reading stories or talking about happy memories before bed can help. Adults may experience fewer nightmares if they eat on a regular schedule, get adequate sleep, and limit their consumption of frightening media.

Generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and some other mental health conditions can contribute to frequent nightmares. Therapy can help when real-life stress makes its way into dreams. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can also help to reduce the likelihood of nightmares. Some people attempt lucid dreaming – a kind of dreaming during which the dreamer knows he is dreaming and controls the content of the dreams – to avoid nightmares.


  1. Adult nightmares: Causes and treatments. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved from
  2. The science behind dreams and nightmares. (2007, October 30). National Public Radio. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 07-6-2018

  • Leave a Comment
  • Deanna

    April 25th, 2015 at 8:21 PM

    You can’t say dreams don’t come true ..
    About 20 years ago I had a dream of a man I was in love with died … I wasn’t there but I received a phone call that told me he had died . I was terrified when I woke up cause I thought it was real .It took a few minutes before I realize I just had a bad dream .
    I talked to my mom and friends about it and I was very upset about it for a long time and asked SHOULD I TELL MY BOYFRIEND ABOUT MY DREAM, Everybody told me ” NO HE DOESN’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT “. ” DON’T WORRY OR LET IT GET TO YOU IT’S JUST A DREAM AND I CAN’T COME TRUE !!!”

    7 years after that DREAM I had a friend call me and for some reason I felt a weird feeling that day and ignored the phone call and check the voice message they left , Which they told me to call them right away they have something very important to talk to me about . Well for some reason and weird feeling I kept ignoring their phone calls for a week before I finally answered it … And they told me that Ricky was found dead in his hotel room in another state!!!
    Since then I’m terrified having nightmares. Cause I know FIRST HAND THEY CAN COME TRUE !!!
    That Caused TRAUMA FOR ME IT’S SELF .

    Cause to this Day IM ASKING WHY did I have that Dream , WHY didn’t I talk to him about that Dream , and COULD I HAVE PREVENTED IT .. And to Go through that LOSS TWICE ,in a DREAM and REAL LIFE !!!

    I Don’t Understand Why I had the Dream and Why Him . I’ve had other Boyfriends before Him and I’ve Been in Love a Few Times Before , So WHY ???

  • María Luisa

    June 7th, 2019 at 9:24 PM

    I have the same experience but not only one time
    I also ask myself why I have these experiences, I don’t know how to forget them
    if you have the answer, please share it with me.

  • Raven

    May 16th, 2015 at 12:05 AM

    I have suffered from nightmares/night terrors my entire life. Even when I was a kid :(

  • Dr. Mrs. Caroline Egekwu

    September 20th, 2016 at 6:42 PM

    In reference to Learned helpless diagnosis , it is absolutely necessary to rule out nutritional deficiencies before making a diagnosis because some nutritional deficiencies might present as ” Learned helpless “, after a traumatic event or a family crisis or cancer illness .
    Many clients who were given medications because of a misdiagnosis, without an assessment of their nutritional deficiencies , , did not do very well because the nutritional deficiencies became persisted , leading to various medical emergency hospitalizations .

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