How does time work in dreams

Nightmares - What They Mean and How You Can Use Them For Yourself

Scary persecutors, sexual adventures or embarrassing situations - your brain produces (night) dreams every night. Are they meaningless images or important messages from the subconscious? Learn the language of your dreams in this article and become the director of your nightly cinema.

The elevator doors open. Nameless suits stare at you. You know something is going really wrong right now. You are trying to say something clever when your gaze wanders down on you and you realize: You are naked. Splinter-fiber naked. In a panic you startle - and realize that you (at least in your pajamas) are safely lying in your bed.

Fortunately, it was all just a nightmare. The memory fades with the first cup of coffee at the latest. But the persistent question remains in your head: Is this nightmare trying to tell me something? To get to the bottom of this question, let's first take a look at your own dream factory.

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Your nightly dream factory

While you sleep, your mind and body take the time to regenerate. It's hard work and a highly active process that includes dreaming. Intense dreams do not take place throughout the night, but mainly during the REM sleep phase.

What actually happens while you sleep?

Sleep phases deciphered

This is essential for your mental health, because during the day you come across a number of topics that cannot be processed immediately. The brain therefore takes an inventory at night. It goes through experiences again, sorts and processes them. The logic center is switched off during this time. As a product of this cognitive process, these sometimes confused dreams arise. Scenes from everyday life are freely combined with images from films and memories, spiced with your longings and one or the other fear.

You cannot remember most of the dreams. Because this only works if you wake up directly from the REM phase and the dream is stored in your memory. However, if your alarm clock rings in a different phase, the dream content is usually lost. By the way, the amount of beautiful and bad dreams is roughly equal. Because anxiety dreams are usually more spectacular, we are more likely to remember them.

Common nightmares top 7

  • Falling / falling into the abyss
  • To be tracked
  • Failure on the job or on exams
  • Death of a loved one
  • Come too late
  • Can't move
  • To be naked

Why do you have nightmares?

You can think of your dreams as a mirror of your day. If you experience stress, you always have negative dreams. If you suppress a certain wish, it may come to life during intense dreaming at night. It is similar with feelings: They “live” in the limbic system, more precisely in the amygdala. Brain scans show their high activity during an anxiety dream.

During the day, the brain regulates feelings of fear and panic. At night, however, this mechanism is absent. Because the emotions can now live out unhindered, nightmares arise. The reasons for nightmares are mostly to be found in our lives. But genetic predisposition also plays a role - you can inherit constant nightmares, so to speak.

Possible reasons for nightmares

Past traumas

Stress at work or in relationships

Smoldering conflicts

Last night's horror film

Small children in particular often suffer from a phenomenon known as night terrors or pavor nocturnus. The cause is usually a temporary disturbance in the development of the sleep phases. The person concerned screams in extreme panic, is disoriented and not really awake. Although it looks very similar, the night terrors are not a nightmare. Adults can suffer from Pavor Nocturnus for the rest of their lives.

This is how you deal with constant nightmares

It is normal to have bad dreams every now and then. However, frequent nightmares can seriously disrupt the quality of sleep. You're not alone in this: around 5% of Germans suffer from recurring nightmares that disrupt their sleep. That can help:

  • In the evening before going to sleep, don't watch the nerve-wracking series, but take a relaxing walk (or whatever helps you relax)
  • Take permanent stress seriously and change something about it
  • Clarify stressful relationships and living conditions

After a traumatic event, nightmares arise in the context of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is a serious mental disorder that absolutely belongs in the hands of a psychotherapist and requires treatment!

Why you need bad dreams

A nightmare can range from uncomfortable to terrifying. Even so, nightmares are essential to your mind. Experiments show that without dreams you would be less creative and productive. The brain, so to speak, plays through various possibilities during sleep because it is significantly more flexible without a controlling consciousness. That is why a lot of good ideas are born in dreams.

In addition, nightmares are cementing your identity and keeping you sane. It is the brain's attempt to transform diffuse feelings into concrete images and stories. These can be processed and understood in this way. If you could suppress nightmares with pills, your emotions would have no expression and would drive you crazy sooner or later.

Why do I have nightmares?

Your nightmares and their causes give you important clues about yourself. Bad dreams have meaning, but they don't work like a dictionary. Not every locked door in a dream indicates a missed opportunity. Dream interpretation only works if you include your life experience and past. Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung were pioneers in this field. Their findings form the basis of depth psychological therapy today. Even without therapy, you can decipher the messages from the subconscious. There are even people who have the ability to take control of their own dreams.

In the so-called lucid dream, also called lucid dream, the dreamer knows that he is currently asleep in bed. He can influence every detail of his dream and everything feels hyper-real. Passionate lucid dreamers describe their nocturnal experiences like a virtual reality experience. Lucid dreaming is the master class of dream exploration.

Do you feel like dealing more closely with your dreams? Then take the first step now and start a dream diary. With this simple tool you can learn to interpret your dreams. This also helps against nightmares in the long term. There are a few apps that can help you keep a dream journal.

It is important to plan in the evening to remember your dreams. In the morning you record the dream content in the app in bullet points. So you have all your dreams in one place. The Dream Catcher app also analyzes given keywords in order to uncover patterns. If you want support with lucid dreaming in addition to the documentation, check out the Awoken app.

App: Awoken

Would you like to try lucid dreaming and understand your dreams better? Awoken will help you with that.


No matter how exciting the dream is - you are always safe in your bed. Something sleepwalkers can't say. Find out now how these night trips come about, what help you can offer them and why you shouldn't wake sleepwalkers.

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Marie-Theres Rüttiger

Marie-Theres is an online editor for health and insurance topics at ottonova. She designs the editorial plan, researches and primarily writes about (e-) health and innovation that make life better.

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