Do Horror Movies Cause Nightmares?

Do Horror Movies Cause Nightmares?

Nightmare on sleep street

Who doesn’t love a scary movie? It’s that adrenaline rush we get from fear we know is imaginary as the chainsaw yielding monster only exists in our television set – fun. But how much fun is that movie magic triggered fear later? After we close our eyes and drift off to sleep, does watching scary movies cause nightmares?

The word nightmare is derived from the Old English word “mare”, meaning a mythological demon or goblin that would torment humans by sitting on top of the sleeper and provoking scary dreams. The word night was added to concentrate on the dream aspect. Most dreams tend to occur while in the rapid eye movement sleep state, also called REM sleep. Most experts believe nightmares are caused by everyday stress and trauma, but how do scary movies factor into the terrors of the night?

Fear factors

It has yet to be formally proven that there is a correlation between horror movies and nightmares, but considering the following factors you can see how a night of scary flicks can send you on a frightening dream adventure.

  • Stress – A major source of nightmares is stress. When you’re stressed, your body and mind are not able to relax and your body relieves pressure through bad dreams. If you’ve just watched a scary movie, your sleepy brain may believe that Freddy or Jason are hiding under your bed in an effort to release the tension.
  • Anxiety – Dealing with emotions, such as anxiety can manifest into nightmares, forcing you to face your subconscious fears. If you have a fear of small spaces, you may dream about being stuck in an elevator with nowhere to escape. Some common scenarios in horror movies may trigger one of your fears to manifest itself in your dreams in various ways.
  • Activities – What you do throughout your day (and especially right before bed) can deliver a night of fright as well. Subtle suggestions can recreate themselves in your subconscious and cause you to dream of bloodcurdling events. After reading suspense novels or watching scary movies, your mind can retain a striking scene, replay it over and over in your head and combine it with other (otherwise benign) things in your life.
  • FoodEating or drinking before bed can be a trigger for nightmares. I know I always have my big bowl of popcorn hiding with me under the blankets when screening a scary movie. Food and drink causes brain activity to increase, and if you snack before going to sleep, your brain may still be awake and working, tapping into your subconscious as you dream.

Night of the living dreams

Do you dream often? Ever wonder what those funny, silly – and sometimes downright terrifying – dreams mean? They may not be as scary as they feel. Here are some common dreams and their possible meanings.

  • Betrayal – Dream about a friend stealing money? You may be experiencing feelings of abandonment or alienation by someone close to you such as a friend or family member.
  • Dying – Have a nightmare that you woke up in a funeral home? Don’t worry it’s not an omen or sign of things to come, but can mean a rebirth. When a chapter in our lives ends, it’s normal to make room for a new beginning.
  • Failing a test – Find yourself back in school, upset over a failed test while away in dreamland? It may be a sign of stress or fear of failure. These failures can be general or quite specific, like actual fear of failing a midterm.
  • Trapped/stuck – Ever dream you were trapped in a trunk while trying frantically to find a way out? It could mean you feel stuck or trapped in life, with a relationship or career, or have overall feeling of frustration and loss of control.
  • Lost – Wandering around an eerie, strange place, trying to find your way home can be a frightening dream. Being lost may actually be a visual manifestation of anxiety, confusion, frustration or feeling of not fitting in.
  • Losing teeth – While snoozing away with dreams of a glorious feast, you bite into a juicy red apple, when suddenly your teeth begin to all fall out into your hand. This doesn’t mean you missed your dentist appointment, but it does represents a sense of helplessness or lack of control over everyday life. It can also mean you are facing the realization of getting older and have to deal with your own mortality.
  • No clothes in public – The naked nightmare is one of the most common dreams we have that expresses our feelings of vulnerability, shame, being caught off guard, or having that uneasy feeling of being unprepared.
  • Being chased – It feels so real, gasping for your breath as you try to flee from something that keeps biting at your heels. Dreaming about being chased can be insecurity manifesting itself. The scary thing chasing you is essentially a part of yourself or something you are trying to avoid dealing with.