This page is about a type of dream. See Nightmare (disambiguation) for other meanings of the term
Missing image
Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781
Missing image
Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1802

A nightmare is a dream of particular intensity and with content that the sleeper finds disturbing. They are usually associated with rapid eye movement (REM) periods of sleep, and may be accompanied by physical movements.

Until as late as the the eighteenth century, nightmares were widely considered to be the work of demons, which were thought to sit on the chests of sleepers. Various forms of magic and spiritual possession were also advanced as causes. In nineteenth century Europe, the vagaries of diet were thought to be responsible. For example, in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge attributes the ghost he sees to "... an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato..." In a similar vein, the Household Cyclopedia of 1881 offers the following advice about nightmares:

"Great attention is to be paid to regularity and choice of diet. Intemperance of every kind is hurtful, but nothing is more productive of this disease than drinking bad wine. Of eatables those which are most prejudicial are all fat and greasy meats and pastry... Moderate exercise contributes in a superior degree to promote the digestion of food and prevent flatulence; those, however, who are necessarily confined to a sedentary occupation, should particularly avoid applying themselves to study or bodily labor immediately after eating... Going to bed before the usual hour is a frequent cause of night-mare, as it either occasions the patient to sleep too long or to lie long awake in the night. Passing a whole night or part of a night without rest likewise gives birth to the disease, as it occasions the patient, on the succeeding night, to sleep too soundly. Indulging in sleep too late in the morning, is an almost certain method to bring on the paroxysm, and the more frequently it returns, the greater strength it acquires; the propensity to sleep at this time is almost irresistible."

In modern times, nightmares are thought to relate either to physiological causes, such as a high fever, or to psychological ones, such as unusual trauma or stress in the sleeper's life. The occasional body movements seen in nightmares may have a use in awakening the sleeper, thus helping to avoid the frightening dream-situation.

Occasional nightmares are commonplace, but recurrent nightmares can interfere with sleep and may cause people to seek psychiatric help.

A recent development is the use of imagery rehearsal as a method of both reducing the effects of nightmares but also general symptoms in acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.



The "mare" in "nightmare" is not a female horse, but a mara, an Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse term for a female spirit that sat on sleepers' chests, causing them to have bad dreams.

A nightmare is called a mareridt in Danish, a cauchemar in French, and an Alpdruck or Alptraum in German. The alp is a demonic being which presses upon sleeping people so that they cannot utter a sound. These attacks are called Alpdrücke (nightmares). In Italian, the word "incubo" recalls the Incubus, a demon supposed to lie upon sleepers, especially women, and rape them.

Folk remedies

A folk remedy has it that by stopping up the keyhole, placing one's shoes with the toes facing the door, and then getting into bed backwards one can protect oneself against nightmares or "Mortriden." [mare rides]. Or one can put something made from steel, for example an old pair of scissors, in one's bed straw. A third remedy suggests that a person suffering from nightmares should urinate into a clean, new bottle, hang the bottle in the sun for three days, carry it—without saying a word—to a running stream, and then throw it over one's head into the stream.

See also


  • Anch, A.M., & Browman, C.P., & Mitler, M.M., & Walsh, J.K. (1988). Sleep: A scientific perspective. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
  • Forbes, D. et al. (2001) ( Brief Report: Treatment of Combat-Related Nightmares Using Imagery Rehearsal: A Pilot Study, Journal of Traumatic Stress 14 (2): 433-442
  • Siegel, A. (2003) ( A mini-course for clinicians and trauma workers on posttraumatic

dk:Mareridt es:Pesadilla fr:Cauchemar nl:Nachtmerrie pt:Pesadelo zh:恶梦


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools