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Do Nightmares Relieve Tension?

Posted May 21 2009 10:32pm
While nightmares are typically seen as frightening to the dreamer, the role that nightmares play in stress has been frequently debated. Different theories have questioned whether nightmares enabled tension release and played a positive role in coping or simply added to the anxiety of the dreamer. A recent study published in Dreaming examines whether negative life events are associated with an increase or decrease in anxiety attributable to nightmares. The researchers used a sample of 624 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 who were recruited from public and private schools in Australia. The study participants were given a battery of questionnaires examining various aspects of dreaming and stress over a twelve-month period. The results showed no support for the hypothesis that nightmares reduced tension. There was also no evidence that reporting nightmares relieved anxiety. The researchers also found that the stronger the distress of waking (from nightmares), the more likely a person is to report anxiety, controlling for life events and the distress associated with life events. Overall, girls were found to be more likely than boys to experience nightmare waking distress, nightmare sleeping distress, and nightmare frequency. Adolescents who experienced frequent nightmares and nightmare distress were also found to have experienced more major negative life events and to experience greater anxiety overall. Although the researchers focused on major life events in shaping nightmare frequency and distress, they also suggested that "daily hassles" may also be an important factor in psychopathology.

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