Regardless of whether people are young or old, people still have nightmares whether they are 8 years old or 88 years old. Nightmares are a part of sleep, for better or worse. As far back as dreams have been studied, people have been associating their bad dreams with an assortment of factors like stresses of daily life, trauma, and various other items. But are all nightmares related simply to our day-to-day lives? Not necessarily. In fact, there are researchers who say that nightmares could be helpful to the survival of humans, in terms of making important decisions and serving as a redirection to more important issues in the personal lives of people. In fact, some neurologists are arguing that people can use different endings to dreams to determine solutions to traumatic times, as well as every-day problems, in their real lives.
So how can nightmares actually help people get through difficult times? According to Deirdre Bennett, a psychologist at Harvard, nightmares have probably remained a part of mankind for so long because they are helpful to human survival. “Nightmares probably evolved to help make us anxious about potential dangers,” Barrett said. “Even post-traumatic nightmares, which just re-traumatize us, may have been useful in ancestral times when a wild animal that had attacked you, or a rival tribe that had invaded might well be likely to come back.” This interpretation of dreams is intriguing as it offers a more holistic approach to thinking about dreams, even if those of prior generations had no knowledge of the science behind dreams. I believe generations of the past probably related the dreams to religious purposes as these generations had a higher dependency on religion and lower emphasis on science than society today. An interesting phenomenon that has begun to unravel recently with dreams is the power to potentially control at least the ending of the dream itself.
Perhaps partially taken from the plot of the movie Inception, Barrett also discussed the potential humans have to change the endings to their nightmares. “Some people prefer to fight off an attacker, some people would rather be rescued by someone else. Some want a realistic solution, for others, a metaphoric resolution is more satisfying.” She goes on to explain that analyzing a bad dream can help people see the correlation between that dream and the impact it can have on their day-to-day lives. So how can these “lucid dreamers” alter their dreams? According to a recent study, people who have a larger anterior prefrontal cortex are able to have lucid dreams. The correlation between the two stems from this part of the brain being responsible for self-reflection. Therefore, the correlation would make sense.
The problem with people claiming they are lucid dreamers is natural skepticism. Neurological studies can only go so far to show evidence that people really can have lucid dreams. Barrett argues that once people come up with the ending they desire, “they can rehearse this while awake and then at bedtime, to remind themselves that they want to have this ending, should the nightmare occur again.” At this point in neurologic studies, it is hard to determine how realistic lucid dreaming and dream-altering can be. But rest assured, this area will continue to be looked at over time and people could have some answers to this question over the next 10-20 years.
Melina, Remy. “Why Do We Have Nightmares?” LiveScience. LiveScience, 28 July 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
“People With This Special Quality Can Control Their Dreams – PsyBlog.” PsyBlog. PsyBlog, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.