What’s the difference between a nightmare and a bad dream and what can you do about them? Antonio Zadra, a professor of psychology at Université de Montréal and director of the school’s Dream Laboratory, answered a few questions about nightmares in the October issue of Real Simple.
O What exactly qualifies as a nightmare? A nightmare is a disturbing dream that wakes you up, Zadra says. “If it doesn’t wake you up, it’s just a bad dream, not a nightmare.”
O What’s the most common storyline? Being physically attacked. In a study of more than 10,000 dreams, almost half of the nightmares involved attacks, he says.
O Why do nightmares happen? The biggest factor is stress, he says. That stress could come from work, relationships, health or traumatic events. Certain medications have been linked to nightmares, too.
O Are nightmares a way to work through stress? “No,” Zadra says. “They just reflect the inner turmoil that you might be feeling.” Most people experience two or three nightmares a year, although some may have more.
O Is it possible to neutralize a nightmare? Yes, Zadra says. “Reimagine the nightmare during the day, but change the ending into something more pleasant and positive. This simple exercise, called imagery rehearsal therapy, reduces the occurrence of nightmares in about 80% of people.”
O What’s the most interesting thing you’ve uncovered? Men are more likely to have nightmares about disaster—such as a tornado or a war—and they’re usually alone in the dream, he says. Women more often tend to have nightmares about relationship conflicts—such as a family feud or marital trouble.
FIVE FREAKY FACTS ABOUT SLEEP
Seattle’s NBC affiliate, King 5 television station.
1. The average new parent loses nearly 44 days—or 1,056 hours—of sleep during the first year of a child’s life.
2. Humans can live two weeks without food, but only 10 days without sleep.
3. Only about 12% of people dream in black and white, and you only see faces in your dreams that you’ve seen before. Five minutes after waking up, you remember only 50% of your dreams. Within 10 minutes, 90% of them are forgotten.
4. Thinking of pulling an all-nighter on that sales presentation you’ve been putting off? Think again: An all-nighter “can actually reduce your capacity for remembering new facts by 40%,” according to King 5.
5. According to many doctors, men need an hour less sleep a night than women.
So how important is sleep? Pretty darn important, says Alon Avidan, professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It is necessary for restoration. It is necessary for repair.”
Keep colds and flu away by hitting the hay
In the quest to prevent colds and flu, many overlook a vital component—making sure they get a good night’s rest.
According to a recent Huffington Post Canada article by Jason Tetro, studies have linked poor sleep and susceptibility to illness. In 2010, one study asked volunteers to chronicle their sleep habits from the previous two weeks. Then they were infected with rhinovirus, a strain of the common cold.
Some came down with a full cold while others were only mildly affected. Those who had previously had less than seven hours of sleep were three times more likely to come down with an infection than those who had slept eight hours or more, the article notes.
“Studies to unveil the marvels of our daily hibernation—and the deleterious effects of deprivation—will continue and many more discoveries will be made,” Tetro writes. “In the meantime … we should take heed from the research suggesting slumber is critical to health. Although vaccination and other means are effective and worth following, we can all rest assured some of the best proof to prevention is not in a pill but on a pillow.”
So get your flu shot, wash your hands and get a full eight hours of sleep. Your immune system will thank you.
‘Am not I a fly like thee?’
In a series of recent experiments sparked by fruit flies that couldn’t sleep, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have identified a mutant gene—dubbed “Wide Awake”—that sabotages how the biological clock sets the timing for sleep. The finding also led researchers to the protein made by a normal copy of the gene that promotes sleep early in the night and properly regulates sleep cycles. Because genes and the proteins they code for often are highly conserved across species, the researchers suspect their discoveries—boosted by preliminary studies in mice—could lead to new treatments for people whose insomnia or atypical work schedules keep them awake long after their heads hit the pillow.
Sleep difficulties common in toddlers with disorders
A recent study shows toddlers with behavioral problems often have trouble sleeping, too. The study, conducted by Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island and published online in Child Psychiatry & Human Development, examined sleep issues in 183 young children who were receiving clinical treatment for psychological disorders. Researchers found that 41% of children in the study met diagnostic criteria for a sleep disorder. Sleep problems were common in children with disruptive behavior, as well as attention, anxiety and mood problems. The sleep disorders included sleep-onset insomnia and night-waking insomnia. Sleep disorders may be the result of behavioral and emotional problems, but it could also contribute to those problems, the researchers say.