First, on the virtues of nightmares.
Consider the following scenarios.
Scenario A) You are walking along the sidewalk in your town when you notice a dollar bill stuck between the cracks in the pavement. You decide to pick it up and, with no other better idea coming to mind, you purchase a lottery ticket. You use your birthday, the birthday of your brother, mother, father, and finally the birthday of ‘the one that got away’ and your anniversary. That night you wait for the numbers to be called and it wins! Then a train full of beautiful naked your women rolls past your bedroom window, but you notice that on the hill past the train standing underneath a large tree stands your ex, beckoning to you. You cannot believe it. There is the indescribably happy feeling of being wanted. You did it. You found your way back.
Scenario B) You are walking along a dark alley when the narrow opening on the other side slowly begins to close right in front of your eyes. A brick wall manifests itself out of thin air and you are forced to turn direction. Where once you were alone, a large four legged beast with the face of a grotesque carnival clown is now standing between you and your only exit. You run straight at it and at the very last moment do a dive between the beast’s legs. You end up on the other side, which is now a landscape of a cemetery with tombstones floating in midair. You try to hide behind them but just as soon as you touch them they shoot up to the sky, defying gravity. You cling to one and it rockets up. Your grip begins to loosen. The beast is waiting, directly below, with an evil grin. Your hands finally fail you and you begin to plummet.
And then you wake up.
Now I pose this question to you. In which scenario do you feel better being awake rather than asleep.
My guess is, tempting as A may sound, if you really think about it, B is guaranteed to get you up off your feet and ready to face the day.
I’ve had both of these dreams in the past. And let me tell you what happens the morning after.
After dream A, I wake up with a smile. There is this warm feeling radiating through my body. Until I realize it was all just a dream. There is no one in bed next to me. And no one who is looking forward to hearing from me or seeing me today. There is no reunion, no lottery fortune. My bed is cold and empty. I bury myself under the sheets trying futilely to go back to sleep and recapture that feeling. For the rest of the day I will think about the girl under the tree and how she looked at me and wonder if anyone will ever look at me that way again. I will wonder about her. I will remember that I can’t go out to lunch today because I have no money. I’m unwanted, lonely, and broke. I want to go back to sleep. Back to my dream. My day is unproductive. Everything around me is a stark reminder of how much better my life was asleep. I just want the day to end and hopefully I can catch that train once more.
After dream B, I awake startled and alert. I am acutely hyperaware of every detail in my room. There is no lull, there is no sleep still left to wipe away from my eyes. There are a thousand thoughts racing through my head, ever forward, grateful, enthusiastic, and none of them are of sleep or to lull me back into retreat, stepping backwards. I am happy to be in my own bed. I am excited to see who I will interact with first on this bright beautiful day that I am happy to be a part of. My heart is so full of adrenaline that I am springing to my feet and racing through my morning tasks. A nightmare makes me happy to be awake and to be nowhere else but now here.
Nightmares, the good kind, the monsters and ghosts kind, make us appreciate more what we have. Those nightmares are fun and exciting. Much like the Twilight Zone episode of the man who eventually realizes he’s in Hell (spoiler alert) we would tire and grow weary and maybe even numb or resentful if our dreams were the dull repetitive winning the lottery, getting the girl (or boy), having superpowers, eating a bunch of food (what, am I the only one who watches Iron Chef Japan before bed?). Sometimes I choose to try and invoke nightmares because I feel my daily life has become too boring, too bland. I need some variety, some nuclear spice, and a refreshed appreciation for what I have. Other times it’s for the story of it. Some of my nightmares make for incredible stories to be told by the campfire or to little kids you don’t like. Other times it can be an insurance policy to help ensure I get out of bed on time. Hahah.
The point is, I think nightmares are seriously underrated. People like warm and fuzzy and safe and comfortable. But that doesn’t push us forward. If we were always like that, we’d have no drive to do anything. I’d stay in bed all day until I withered away if you gave me a button that would shoot happy blissful dreams to my mind while I slept. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came to her in a nightmare. Nightmares bring our fears and secret thoughts to the forefront, in bright contrast where we cannot hide from them.
So I implore you. Give nightmares a chance. Feel what it is like to wake from a nightmare and pay attention to those initial sensations after waking. Just…no nightmares like the one I posted about today. Those are different. I don’t like those either. Just a good monster and a good chase and one of those jolts at the end that make you jump when you wake. A shark about to bite. An axe about to fall.
If you are not in the habit of remembering or recording your dreams, I also highly recommend you begin some sort of system for yourself in order to keep track. You might be having incredible dreams or nightmares but if you are not exercising the ability to retain them, you could lose complete recall within just the first minute of your day. When you wake up, try to keep your eyes closed and don’t distract yourself with outside thoughts. Don’t think of the day ahead. Don’t look out the window. Grab a piece of paper and a pen that you will now be required to have at your bedside to jot down what you remember or grab your phone and record your voice. With time you’ll find your time of recall gets progressively longer and then you can have the dream still in your head by lunch.
Below are some of the methods I have used in the past to incite nightmares. If you are brave enough, I challenge you to experiment with a few. Of course be aware and be warned of whatever emotions or images this may bring up, and do this with care and with responsibility.
Method 1: Eat certain foods. Certain foods are believed to help invoke nightmares. I prefer salty and/or spicy. But they also say fatty foods might help. I just don’t recommend it because I want you to be healthy. I’m looking out for you. Eating these things a little before you go to sleep can help intensify the vividness of your dreams.
Method 2: Scare yourself. There is a fine line between spooked before bed and lying in bed too terrified to close your eyes. I think watching a scary movie is too stimulating and can end up making too much of an impression. But a good scary story can do just enough to begin planting a seed in your imagination that could end up maturing in your sleep. I love the short stories that give you just enough of a scare to send a chill up and down your spine. You certainly don’t forget that as you fall asleep and your eyes just manage to lazily register the shadow moving in the corner.
Method 3: Pills. Whoa whoa whoa. Let’s be clear here a second. I am absolutely `100% NOT advocating for the abuse of any drugs of any sort. I’m talking about vitamin B6, which also affects vividness but can also have a certain slight influence on dream subject. And melatonin, which is often used as a sleep aid. One of the specific side effects of melatonin are bizarre or vivid dreams. A combination of the two would be highly effective, and a more natural way to combine would be to have melatonin and a banana.
So game plan: About an hour before you go to bed, pop some buttered popcorn, add some salt, and sprinkle some cayenne pepper or Sriracha. Not for nothing, but if you don’t have a nightmare you’ll at least thank me for this serious popcorn upgrade. While you munch on it read some scary stories. Real life encounters with the paranormal. Ghost stories. r/creepypasta. Whatever floats your nightmare boat. Then right before bed, take the proper dosage of melatonin and snack on a banana. You’ll be healthier and on your way to hopefully some good nightmares.
Hope this works for you and that you give this a try. If you ever need a refresher, a good nightmare is an excellent restart button.