Women's Health South Africa
THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES Image Credit: Women's Health South Africa
THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES Image Credit: Women's Health South Africa

The Stuff Of Nightmares

Could that bad dream be linked to your mental well-being? We explore the reality of those scary sleep intruders.

Lizzy Dening

Picture this: you’re walking down a dark alley. You hear footsteps. You try to run, but your limbs feel heavy. Your heart’s racing, your blood’s pumping, you can hear yourself scream. And then... You open your eyes, safe in your bed. But it all felt so real.

Nightmares are typically associated with monsters-under-the-bed terror as kids, but being old enough to get served alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you’re immune – especially when you’re female. “It’s a robust finding in sleep literature that women experience more nightmares than men; interestingly, the gender difference only begins to emerge at adolescence,” says Dr Bryony Sheaves, a research clinical psychologist who specialises in the relationship between sleep disturbance and psychotic experiences. “Initial findings suggest women may remember more of their dreams generally, so they are more likely to retain or recollect their nightmares. But women are also more prone to experience feelings of anxiety and worry – and worrying is one of the best predictors of regular nightmares.” This suggests that what plays out while you’re asleep is directly linked to things you’ve struggled to deal with during your waking hours.


While the link between nightmares and stress is well established, a growing body of research is contributing to the theory that recurrent nightmares could be

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