Naked Science Forum

Life Sciences => Physiology & Medicine => Topic started by: thedoc on 21/12/2016 04:53:01

Title: Is it better to awaken someone who is having a nightmare?
Post by: thedoc on 21/12/2016 04:53:01
Jonathan Shapiro  asked the Naked Scientists:
If my wife is having a nightmare is it better to let her continue until it settles by itself, and the brain has sorted out the matter that was worrying her, or do I wake her up and by doing so interrupt a process that nature has devised for some reason?

Pardes Hanna

What do you think?
Title: Re: Is it better to awaken someone who is having a nightmare?
Post by: David Cooper on 18/04/2017 18:48:31
There is a third option, and that's try to influence the dream without waking the person.

When you come out of a dream by waking, you generally feel fully awake in an instant, so I doubt being woken up during a dream is harmful. My guess is that dreams occur when sleep is lightest. If an alarm clock wakes you and it takes you a while even to remember what you are as your mind slowly clears, that's coming out of deep sleep which was surely too foggy to sustain any dream.

It's certainly the case though that sounds in the real world can influence the course of dreams, so you could make use of this, and it's better than grabbing hold of them and shaking them to try to wake them (which could fit with the nightmarish content of the dream and make it worse). You can speak to the person who is having a nightmare without necessarily waking them, so try telling them that it's just a dream and that they can't be harmed by whatever it is they're scared of. Gently tell them that the monsters, the giant food blender, the fierce dog with five heads and the little spider on the ceiling are all imaginary. "It's all fake. Virtual. It's just a dream." They might then fix the problem within the dream and calm down as they take control of the situation without waking up at all. Do the experiment and see if this works.
Title: Re: Is it better to awaken someone who is having a nightmare?
Post by: chris on 21/04/2017 18:09:26
I wouldn't have thought that there was much danger from waking a person having a nightmare. I'm not sure where that myth arises, but no one ever died - to my knowledge - because they were awoken while dreaming, which is what having a nightmare is. In fact, sleep researchers routinely wake up their subjects when they are dreaming to ask them questions!