by Andrew Pacholyk MS L.Ac

Nightmares are very common among children and fairly common among adults. Contributing factors in the cause of nightmares include illness, stress, troubled relationships, traumatic experiences, emotional difficulties, drugs or medication..However, some people have frequent nightmares that seem unrelated to their waking lives. Recent studies suggest that these people tend to be more open, sensitive, trusting, and emotional than average.

Traumatic events sometimes trigger a long lasting series of recurrent nightmares often diagnosed as part of PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. These traumatic events are different from nightmares in that they repeat the same scene over and overfor months, sometimes years.

Night terrors are different from nightmares. Night terrors usually occur during the first hour or two of sleep. It is not uncommon to hear the person screaming or thrashing around. It is often hard to wake the sleeper and they rarely remember anything. Often seen in children, night terrors are harder to understand. In adults, they tend to come under severe stress.

Sleep paralysis is the experience of not being able to move. Sometimes the person realizes they are dreaming and still can’t wake up. In this situation both fantasy and reality feel as if they mix. Symptoms may include the feeling of a heavy weight on the chest making it hard to move and difficult to breath, hallucinations, loud buzzing noises, vibrations, the feeling of being electricuted or the feeling of being touched. Researchers feel that sleep paralysis is really a partial awakening during REM or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a particular sleep pattern associated with imbalance or the diagnosis called dream disturbed sleep. Excessive dreaming indicates imbalance. They are often defined as dreams which cause restless sleep or nightmares, resulting in the person feeling very tired the following morning. Although it is mainly the heart and mind connection involved with excessive dreams, the content of the dream may also give some indication of where there is an imbalance. For example, dreams with crying and weeping could point to the lungs or issues of being stuck could be associated with the large intestine. Plunging into water or being scared may indicate the kidneys and water that is overflowing or flooding could point to the urinary bladder. Issues of anger could be the liver or not being able to make a decision could point you in the direction of the gall bladder. Dreams in which we go over and over the same situation, walking in a circle, reliving aspects of our jobs or our relationships generally are due to a stomach, spleen, and heart imbalance. People with this problem often say they can’t turn off their mind.

Reworking Your Nightmare

It has been said that the “power of suggestion” is the power that brings about change. Considered a psychological process, by which a person can guide his or her thoughts, feelings, or behavior in the direction they want them to go. Similar to the power of positive thinking, planting the seed in your mind and repeating the process over and over allows the brain to start believing in the positive outcome. Of course, the suggestions you make can go in a direction that is negative and that tends to be the mind-set of those who constantly walk around worrying, are in fear or only see their “glass half empty”. The power of suggestion works in the same way.

Our nightmares are often the result of traumatic events or embarrassing situations. Often when we are unable to cope with the reality of a particular situation, it gets pushed back deep into the subconscious, where the brain deals with it in a manner that is safer for us to handle… and that tends to come out in our dreams. Severe traumatic events may need to be dealt with by seeking out a professional to help with your nightmares or in some cases night terrors.

BUT, there is much YOU can do on your own. The original neuro-psychological theory of the power of suggestion was based upon the ideo-motor reflex response discovered by James Braid and William Carpenter. Waking suggestions can produce strong changes in perceptual experience during sleep.

Consider these suggestions:

1. Upon waking, write down your nightmare in your dream journal.

2. Now, answer these questions: Look at the main theme of the nightmare. What is it about? Are there any specific symbols or signs that stand out? Is this a reoccurring nightmare? When did this start? How long have you been having this particular nightmare?

3. It is time to rewrite this nightmare. Using the gift of your very creative imagination, go back to the beginning of the scenario. Recreate the dream, but now with a positive outcome. Allow yourself to change the nightmare into a powerful and empowering result.

4. Visualize the positive, safe outcome in your mind for several minutes. This “new dream” you have created is your actual reality.

5. Change your expectation! By changing your response expectancies, which are the ways you anticipate your response in various situations, your nightmare picture eventually becomes an empowering dream. It allows you to take a stance against any wrongs brought upon you.

6. It will be important to see this “new dream” at least once a day during your waking hours. It is very important to see it again before you go to peaceful sleep. This pattern must be repeated daily for several weeks.

7. These expectancies will set you up for a new automatic response which will influence how you get to the outcome you expect.

8. By anticipating your “new dream” or specific outcome, your thoughts and behaviors will actually help to bring that “new dream” to fruition. Allow a few months of this reprogramming to take place. Work only with one nightmare at at time. Give yourself time to see the light and your nightmare will no longer disturb you anymore. This pervasive effect can completely change your way of thinking, dreaming and your life!


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