Most adults sleep between seven and nine hours a night. It may seem a long time out of your day not to be studying, working, or having fun but these hours are essential to your health and wellbeing.
Sleeping well means you safeguard your entire system – body, mind, and spirit. It increases your levels of energy, helps you to think efficiently, and it improves your immune function, fighting – for example – the common cold. More importantly, a regular good night’s sleep protects your cardiovascular system, blood sugar levels, and propensity to stress leading to seriously disabling conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. So a good night’s rest is crucial for a whole range of health reasons. Unfortunately, there are certain sleep disorders that can negatively impact our ability to form or maintain healthy sleep patterns.
When we think of nightmares they are usually of the fear-based kind young children confront in their sleep – open as they are to new impressions and bewildering input throughout each day. Monsters and frightening spooks in the cupboard are paradoxically helpful: the children learn in time that monsters don’t exist and that they’ve conquered their fears – another road to self-confidence.
But adults too experience nightmares. Usually appearing in the first hour or so, in the NREM phase of sleep, these are of a different nature, induced by serious reality. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often lies behind persistent nightmares. Other mental health issues, such as depression and substance abuse, can cause sleep disorders. Schizophrenia in particular involves distortion of perception, delusions, and hallucinations, all of which make dreams more disturbing.
Too much alcohol, however initially relaxing, actually affects the quality of sleep – even to the point of insomnia. Prescribed sleeping tablets can affect the real benefit of sleep. Some of those drugs interfere with the circadian rhythm and prevent the sleeper reaching REM (rapid eye movement) and benefitting from the healing quality of deep sleep.
Recurring dreams are another aspect of the disorder spectrum, distressing when predictably unpleasant. If the conscious mind has not fully processed past emotional trauma, anger, grief, or fearful episodes, then the unconscious mind will keep working over it. It is as if that hidden world of the psyche is trying unsuccessfully to get the message through to consciousness. It will repeat and repeat if those powerful emotions are not released from their trapped state, usually in therapy.