What's your worst recurring nightmare


Why do people dream at all?

Dreaming probably helps with processing and problem solving. There is research showing that couples who broke up and dreamed of breaking up were better at coping with the breakup than those who didn't dream about it. Research has also shown that memory is consolidated during sleep and that we consolidate what we have learned during REM sleep.

So it is a bad idea to study all night and then go to the exam without sleep?

Yeah, that's a pretty bad idea. The material is forgotten much faster.

Why do people dream the same nightmare over and over again throughout their lives?

Most often the dream is about something that the person is very concerned with. Sometimes recurring nightmares are a sign of mental illness or trauma. Then a specialist is required. If a dream always has the same content, it can be fought relatively well.


For example, a child keeps dreaming that he is being attacked by a wolf. One treatment strategy is for the child to imagine how they would fight the wolf during the day. Maybe with a sword or a wand. In this way the child will eventually manage to defeat the wolf even in a nightmare. The same procedure applies to adults.

Why are dreams often unrealistic?

In the brain, the prefrontal cortex, or PFC for short, is responsible for logic and reason. In the REM phase, the PFC is switched off and therefore dreams can be unrealistic and still feel real. In addition, the parts of the brain, the hippocampus and amygdala, which are responsible for emotions, are more active than usual. In REM sleep, people can also hear real noises from their environment, such as the barking of a dog or a thunderstorm, and integrate them into a dream.

Do sleepwalking, gnashing teeth, speaking, or screaming at night have anything to do with dreams?

No. The muscles are paralyzed during REM sleep. Only the closed eyes move (see box). Those who sleepwalk are in the deep sleep phase and usually do so in the first half of the night. Those who grind their teeth or talk in their sleep are more likely to be in a light sleep phase. In the deep sleep phase there is also sometimes a normal developmental phenomenon, which mostly affects children, the night terrors or pavor nocturnus. The child screams or lashes out and is scared. Although it has opened its eyes, it is not responsive and the parents can hardly calm it down. The night terrors are harmless and one of the most common wake-up disorders in childhood.

When dreaming, it can happen that you box into space or, unfortunately, the person who sleeps next to you ...

Yes. If this happens very often, you may have a REM behavior disorder because you want your muscles to be completely relaxed during REM sleep. Older people are more likely to be affected by a disorder. On the other hand, so-called sleep myoclonus are quite normal. It is believed that the body twitches when falling asleep because the nerve cells discharge.

Why do you remember some dreams, some not?

People are better at remembering dreams that occur in the last cycle of sleep and the ones that they wake up from. The norepinephrine level is also lower during sleep, which ensures that we forget dreams. Norepinephrine is a messenger substance that makes you awake and alert and helps the brain to store memories.

Author and editor: Vanessa Naef
  • Somnologist and psychotherapist Daniela Janssen from the Hirslanden Center for Sleep Medicine, Zurich

  • Brochure “Sleep for the Brain”, University of Bern, 2019

  • Netflix documentary "Explained: Our Head" by Ezra Klein with Vox Media, 2019

  • www.schlaf-wach-epilepsie-zentrum.insel.ch/de/der-gesunde-schlaf/