People Who Have Intense Nightmares Have a Surprising Advantage, Sleep Expert Says

Sleep researcher says people who have frequent nightmares may be more creative.

Dreams have always been a mystery to scientists who have theories as to what causes them and for what purposes they serve. There are two well-known theories as to why people experience nightmares.

The first is that nightmares are a reflection of the negative experiences we encounter during our waking hours. The second is from an evolutionary psychology perspective called the threat simulation theory, which posits that nightmares prepare us for real life adversity by inventing and re-enacting scenarios.

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Psychology PhD candidate Michelle Carr recently wrote in New Scientist arguing that individuals who experience frequent nightmares have a tendency to think more outside the box on word-association tasks. Her research involved volunteers who had at least two nightmares a week and took place at the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine in Montreal, Canada.

Carr’s research suggests that nightmares may be linked to creativity and that those who often had nightmares are also more likely to have positive dreams than the average person.  She wrote:

“The evidence points towards the idea that, rather than interfering with normal activity, people who are unfortunate in having a lot of nightmares also have a dreaming life that is at least as creative, positive and vivid as it can be distressing and terrifying. What’s more, this imaginative richness is unlikely to be confined to sleep, but also permeates waking thought and daydreams.”

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She cited sleep research conducted at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston by psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann. He found that those who sought therapy for nightmares had broader emotional sensitivity and concluded that sensitivity spurred more intense dreams.

While hyper sensitivity to threats and fear lead to intense nightmares, the same applies for the opposite. Heightened feelings of happiness and excitement can cause individuals to have more intense positive dreams.

Hartmann explained that the sensitivity is also apparent in a person’s thoughts and can lead them to have a dreamlike quality to their thinking while awake. As a result, those individuals have more of a creative edge and affinity for artistic expression.

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