common nightmares haunt nights


Published on November 30th, 2013


What are the most common nightmares that haunt our nights?

For more than a century, scientists analyzed nightmares, and the results of their studies led to bizarre breakthroughs. These bizarre nightmares reveal the most common dreams of people.
Before starting to discuss the most common nightmares it should be clear what we mean when we say “nightmare”. Nightmares, as described by specialists today, is disturbing, emotionally intense dream that ends with the dreamer waking from sleep. It doesn’t matter if your psyche just cooked up the most metaphysically sublime dreamscape – if you don’t wake up, the experience is technically classified not as a nightmare, but as a “bad dream”.

Estimates show that only 5% of adults suffer from regular nightmares and yet most people (statistics vary across studies, but generally it is 70% - 90%) had a nightmare at least once in their life.

The are very strange, we know very little about what people really dream when nightmares occur. The big problem is that most times, nightmares describe very personal things.

In one study, Antonio Zadra, a specialist in sleep study at the University of Montreal, lists several reasons why we need to outline a more comprehensive picture of the contents of a nightmare. Based on a meta - analysis that included 12 studies in which adults took part in 1935, Zadra concluded that such investigations tend to “vary widely depending on the population examined and depending on the tools used”. In most studies, says Zadra, researchers have used questionnaires and interviews, but he argues that the best method is to use a diary in which participants record their daily dreams.

“Retrospective questionnaires or similar instruments may lead to inaccurate story of nightmares because of the fragile nature of remembering dreams”, said Zadra.

“When asked to recall a nightmare, most subjects tend to remember generally intense dreams, unusual and not typical experiences. This could explain why, in studies conducted through questionnaires and interviews, topics related to free fall or flying occur more often in journals”, the expert explained.

Common Nightmare Themes

One of the first studies investigating common themes nightmares was conducted by psychologist Hulsey Cason in the 30s. In this research were interviewed healthy adults, ‘crazy’ adults, children and blind students. Based on these interviews in which 258 subjects took part, the most common themes were related to:

1. Animals ( 27 % )

2. The feeling of being watched ( 27 % )

3. Family/home ( 26% )

4. Death/murder ( 22 % )

5. Falling ( 21 % )

6. Other topics ( 19 % )

7. Accidents ( 17 % )

Of course, this study has limits and that participants did not keep a diary of dreams and its failure to specify the awakening criterion, definining a nightmare instead as a distressing or terrifying dream.

Another similar study was conducted in 1988 by psychologist Deirdre Barrett of Harvard, and included 79 participants.

The results led to the formation of a new top of the most common nightmares, which looks like this:

1. Being chased (72%)

2. Death of a family member or friend (64%)

3. Falling (53%)

4. Own death (39%)

5. Animals/monsters (33%)

6. War/violence/natural disasters (24%)

In 1978, Scott Lawrence and Anthony Celluci at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro conducted a study in which they not only asked subjects (29 subjects who had frequent nightmares) to keep a journal, but it is the first study that has awakenings criteria into account.

In this study it was found that the most common nightmares are:

1. Threat to physical harm (16%)

2. Injuries/death of others (15%)

3. Interpersonal conflict (15%)

One of the largest and most comprehensive studies of nightmares was published in 2010 by Michael Schredl of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany. Schredl nightmares examined the thematic content of a sample of over 1,000 adults (individuals aged 16 years) who declared that experience more nightmares throughout the year. Results indicated the most common nightmares are related to:

1. Falling (40%)

2. Being Chased (26%)

3. The feeling of being paralyzed (25%)

4. Delay an important event (24%)

5. Disappearance or death of someone close (21%)

The purpose of the study conducted even Zadra wanted to “get a comprehensive description and comparison of bad dreams and nightmares”. The study was carried out on a large sample and was carried out on the basis of the logs maintained by the participants.

Thus, Zadra collected 10,000 reports about bad dreams and nightmares. Of these, only 253 431 of nightmares and bad dreams where reported by 331 subjects and were detailed enough to be used in the analysis.

The top five most common nightmares were related to:

1. Physical aggression (48.6%)
2. Interpersonal Conflicts (21%)
3. Failure or Helplessness (16.2%)
4. Health-Related Concerns and Death (9.1%)
5. Apprehension/Worry (8.7%)

Source: io9

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common nightmares haunt nights 1

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