nightmare myths and truth
Last Updated on June 6, 2022 by Peter

Nightmare Myths and Truth

Have you ever heard of an advice not to eat certain foods before sleep because they can give you nightmares?

This is just one of the many nightmare myths that we are going to cover in this article. Even in our modern society, we can easily come across many misconceptions about dreams and nightmares. For instance, people tend to associate nightmares only with fear. While fear may be the most common sensation caused by a nightmare, it certainly isn’t the only one. Many other negative and unpleasant emotions can be caused by nightmares.

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Nightmare myths and reality

    Talking about negative feelings, people often tend to mix bad dreams and nightmares. It doesn’t mean that you have had a nightmare only because your dream was unpleasant in some way. We shall talk about more this later in the text.

    an image of a woman scared of nightmares

    Maybe it’s not so strange that nightmares are followed by so many myths since the sleep and dreams are still pretty-much unexplored areas of our lives. Nevertheless, common nightmare myths can be dangerous since they can set a person that is trying to deal with their nightmare issue on a wrong track.

    There are many misconceptions about nightmares, and in this article, we are going to debunk the most common ones.  

    Myth: Nightmares are the same as night terrors.

    Truth: This may be the most famous one amongst nightmare myths. It’s a very popular misconception. Nightmares and night terrors are two completely different things. Nightmares are unpleasant, vivid dreams that cause feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, remorse, etc. Night terrors are a serious sleeping disorder that causes screaming, crying and body movements, often sudden and quite intense. During REM stage, people don’t act out on their dreams, whether they are pleasant dreams or nightmares. A night terror is a disorder that is followed by real, physical reactions of the body.

    Myth: Mostly children suffer from nightmares.

    Truth: Both adults and children can suffer from nightmares. This is also one of the big nightmare myths. Many teenagers and adults suffer from nightmares quite frequently. Children get more disturbed and frightened by nightmares and thus seek out their parents’ aid. Adults usually don’t give much attention to their scary dreams and don’t share them so much with the others. But this doesn’t mean that nightmares are not present in adulthood. Many studies have confirmed the large frequency of nightmares among adult individuals.

    a child scared of a nightmare

    Nightmares are the same as bad dreams.

    Truth: Having a bad dream doesn’t mean that you are having a nightmare. Unpleasant dream imagery is not a criterium enough to define a dream as a nightmare. There are dreams that deal with disturbing emotional and personal issues but are not nightmares. Understanding every unsettling dream as a nightmare can lead to a belief that a serious issue exists when it does not.

    Myth: Nightmares don't have anything to do with the reality.

    Truth: Nightmares are usually caused by real-life feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear or even real-life phobias. One of the common nightmare myths is that nightmares originate from pure phantasy and that they have nothing or little to do with the personality of the dreamer. Oftentimes, nightmares can point to “hidden” issues in someone’s personality or problems in their life. Real-life emotional traumas can trigger nightmares. The same can happen with any disturbing experience in the life that person left undealt with.

    an image of a nightmare

    Myth: Nightmares don't require treatment.

    Truth: When it comes to nightmare myths, he is maybe the most common one. People often think that professional treatment is not needed when it comes to nightmares. Nightmares, especially if frequent, can cause serious psychological issues and they require attention. Sometimes, people struggling with serious nightmare problems may be in need of a professional assistance. This especially goes for children and teenagers, since they are in a delicate phase of their emotional and intellectual development.

    Myth: Problems with nightmares will just disappear over time.

    Truth: Nightmares won’t simply go away if the problem that is causing them remains unsolved. Our dreams can reveal to us problems in our lives that we overlooked. People can bury some emotional issues that nightmares are trying to bring back to the surface. So, nightmares that are caused by real traumas won’t just go away if we don’t deal with those traumas.

    an image of a happy woman

    Myth: Nightmares can't cause other sleeping disorders.

    Truth: Nightmares can lead to the development of insomnia as well as other sleeping disorders. Out of the fear of having a nightmare, people may avoid or delay sleep. It is not a rare thing for people who experience intense nightmares to develop insomnia. An idea that nightmares can’t be followed by other sleeping problems is a quite frequent one among nightmare myths. Actually, having a long-term problem with nightmares can trigger serious sleeping disorders.

    Myth: Nightmares don't influence other aspects of your life.

    Truth: Problem with nightmares can influence general psychological well-being. It can influence self-esteem, social life, personal life and physical health. People tend to think that their problem with nightmares remains in their bedroom. But this isn’t entirely true and it’s one more among dangerous nightmare myths. Children are especially sensitive to nightmares. These disturbing dreams can even lead to the development of phobias among children in their early age.

    an image of a man being depressed

    Myth: Certain foods cause nightmares.

    Truth: There is no scientifically backed up correlation between certain foods and nightmares. Eating heavy meals just before bedtime isn’t healthy and you should avoid it. But it doesn’t mean that some foods can directly cause nightmares. The interesting thing is, one scientific study has shown a certain correlation between unpleasant dreams and scents. But, as far as the food is concerned, there is no evidence of a connection to the nightmares.

    Myth: Nightmares are determined by fear.

    Truth: Dreams don’t need to cause fear in order to qualify as nightmares. Besides fear, nightmares can be determined by the feelings of:


    Many nightmares cause the intense feeling of sadness. People can be deeply saddened, even crying and sobbing in their nightmares.


    The feeling of guilt is very common in nightmares. The quilt that is troubling someone in real-life can find its way into a nightmare scenario.


    Remorse can emerge as a leading feeling in a nightmare. It can be a remorse over something done in real-life or in a dream. The intense feeling of remorse over a certain deed can really haunt person’s dreams.


    Feelings of disgust are not uncommon in nightmares. People can oftentimes be repulsed by the imagery in their nightmares, rather than afraid of it.

    Helplessness and/or the inevitability of negative things

    The feeling of helplessness is common in nightmares and it doesn’t need to be accompanied by fear. Feeling that you are not in control of negative things is synonymous with nightmares. You can feel like you can just stand by and watch negative things unfolding in front of you, and that there is nothing that you can do about it. This feeling of helplessness can be followed by feelings of sadness and despair.

    Not being able to communicate or to be understood

    A very common sensation that nightmares can induce. Loss of the ability to speak or communicate is a frequent nightmare scenario. In this type of nightmares, a person doesn’t need to experience fear. A person just feels disconnected from the world, alone and abandoned. The experience can be extremely disturbing.

    an image of a man coping with a nightmare

    Fear doesn’t have to be the only or leading feeling in nightmares. These unpleasant dreams can be about physical pain, violence, despair or remorse. Associating nightmares only with fear is one more of the common nightmare myths.


    Believing that nightmares have no connection to our real personal troubles, issues or emotional pain can really slow down the healing process. Some of the common nightmare myths are quite harmless, but the most of them can lead to the further deepening of the nightmare issues. It is interesting how often nightmares can be just about enduring physical harm and aggression, rather than emotional pain. Also, sadness and despair can be leading emotions in a nightmare, not fear. Understanding nightmares in a right way and staying in touch with the latest psychological discoveries is very important for our emotional health and better sleeping experience. In the meantime, take a look at our article on how to avoid nightmares to reduce the frequency of nightmares.
    Scroll to Top