Suffering from frequent nightmares can make anyone dread falling asleep, but it seems bad dreams may actually be useful for something other than sweating up the bed. Recent research suggests that people who have nightmares are more creative and have a more expansive waking dream life than those who snooze peacefully. I usually blame my nightmares on stress or high anxiety, but now I’m going to consider taking up poetry or painting — so the art world better watch itself!
The study comes out of Montreal’s Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine. Michelle Carr, a psychology PhD candidate at the University of Montreal, explained her findings in an article published in New Scientist, titled "The Upside of Nightmares: How Bad Dreams Are Also Good For You." Carr and fellow researchers enlisted 28 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35 who claimed to suffer from two of more nightmares a week. Their tempting advertisement lured participants in by exclaiming "Get Paid to Nap!" (which sounds pretty darn good right about now). Volunteers reported on their day-dreaming, filled out questionnaires, and took tests of their creativity. Finally, they got to do as the ad said, and were hooked up to electrodes to monitor brain activity and made that dough while taking a brief snooze. Nice!
Carr found that those who suffer from constant nightmares "tend to think further outside the box on word-association tasks" which leads to the perception of creativity, explains New York Magazine. According to her research, they may also have more positive dreams than the normal person, and all this dreaming bleeds into the waking world.
"The evidence points towards the idea that, rather than interfering with normal activity, people who are unfortunate in having a lot of nightmares also have a dreaming life that is at least as creative, positive and vivid as it can be distressing and terrifying," Carr wrote in her piece for New Scientist. "What’s more, this imaginative richness is unlikely to be confined to sleep, but also permeates waking thought and daydreams."
Carr points to previous research which suggests that those who have nightmares are more empathetic and frequently mirror the behavior of others. She also sites the work of sleep researcher and psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann who in the 1980s found that intense nightmares may be linked to the person's emotional sensitivity, rather than overall anxiety.
"He concluded that sensitivity is the driving force behind intense dreams. Heightened sensitivity to threats or fear during the day results in bad dreams and nightmares, whereas heightened passion or excitement may result in more intense positive dreams," Carr explains. "People who have a lot of nightmares experience a dreamlike quality to their waking thoughts. And this kind of thinking seems to give them a creative edge. For instance, studies show that such people tend to have greater creative aptitude and artistic expression." Two of Carr's study participants are both artists by trade already.
So next time you are running from zombies, falling off a cliff, or giving a presentation completely naked, remember — it may give you an edge when you wake up.