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Nightmares are not the product of overeating, overdrinking, or any other physical activity. They are the result of some waking anxiety which is so acute that it bursts into our dreams. Childhood, in particular, is full of such anxieties, often attached to the process of getting used to the world and facing problems which may seem stupidly minute to those who have forgotten what it was like to be five years old. If our child wakes screaming in the night, it will usually be the result of a ‘bad dream’ which has been forgotten by the time we reach the bedside. There is nothing we can do other than comfort the child, reassure her, tell her that ‘it won’t happen again’ – which will probably be true, for she is very unlikely to have another nightmare the same night. If nightmares occur night after night, the problem is more serious, and we must look for the waking problem which is prompting them. Our child may feel insecure at school or at home; may be being bullied by a fellow-pupil or even a teacher; or may be distressed at our response to something she has done or not done.
Most importantly, we must consider our relationship with our partner. Children are remarkably susceptible to atmosphere, and often, especially if they do not have enough vocabulary, or feel they cannot discuss things with us, pick up tension or stress. Loneliness or jealousy can also be turned inwards and emerge in frightening nightmares. Recurring nightmares in adults also deserve careful study. Somebody would suggest that nightmares are the work of our shadow; instincts which for some reason we don’t feel we can show to the world during our waking life break into our dream world and show their anger at being repressed.