Why you're still afraid of the dark: Understanding your nightmares

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Your bad dreams may be a result of not channelling your creativity…

Sleeping woman
Mums never warn you that you never get too old to have nightmares. But if your over-active imagination is ruining your sleep, it may be your subconscious is trying to tell you something.

Sleep and Energy Coach at Capio Nightingale Hospital and Silentnight's sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan argues that all too often, nightmares as a result of us not being creative enough during the day. She explains to Handbag.com why it's high time we started to take note of what our nightmares are trying to tell us…

'Our subconscious/unconscious opens up at night – this means we can become a lot more creative but it also means that we can get more irrational about things which really wouldn't bother us in the light of day.

There is a well-documented link between sleep, dreaming and creativity and in fact, many important scientific discoveries were 'intuited' in the highly creative dream state of REM sleep, such as Einstein's theory of Relativity, whilst, apparently the tune for Yesterday came to Paul McCartney in a dream, as did Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. So it seems our dreams can be very powerful problem-solving tools and sources of inspiration and creativity.

But what happens if we choose not to act on our dreams or give them the attention they ask for? Does not expressing creativity give rise to enhanced dreaming and disrupted sleep?

In my work as a sleep therapist, I see patients who are literally being driven mad by their creativity which is bursting to get out. It manifests as nightmares, night terrors, vivid and maddening dreams. In extreme cases sufferers may end up turning to drugs and alcohol to block out the noise. In companies I see people who are being suffocated in their 'little boxes' whose creative spirits are desperate to get out (particularly with lawyers, strangely enough).

Sleep problems, and the parasomnias, can be caused and exacerbated by all sorts of factors from lifestyle, stimulants (e.g. caffeine), life events and stressors, over exposure to technology and many more. However, in some cases, I believe it can be viewed as a cry for creative expression, a simple need to sing your song.

Here are a few strategies for you to try if you are battling with your own dreams or nightmares or if you simply want to nourish your creative spirit:

1. Me time
Find time and space to regularly listen to your inner world whether through meditation, journaling, painting, cooking, singing – in fact whatever creative outlet takes your fancy.

You don't need to spend three hours a day meditating. Regularly, throughout the day, just stop for a few minutes, breathe, come back to yourself, be mindful, be here.

2. Friend not foe
Avoid thinking of your vivid dreams and nightmares as enemies. The question is 'what are they trying to tell you?' Think of them as a friend who is on your side and just trying to offer a little guidance.

3. Breathe
Practice deep breathing from the belly - try to breathe the anxiety out of you.

4. Bedtime yoga
To calm your mind and spirit, try a little pre-sleep yoga before you get into bed. I describe this in my book Tired But Wired and it simply consists of 'child's pose' to 'legs up the wall' pose to 'corpse pose'. The whole thing need only take five minutes and you do it before you get into bed. Your sleep will be quieter and deeper.'

Taken from Dr Nerina's blog, Creativity: Things that go bump in the night. For more advice on how to get a good night's sleep, visit silentnight.co.uk/sleep-you

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