‘Obviously one must hold oneself responsible for the evil impulses of one’s dreams. In what other way can one deal with them? Unless the content of the dream rightly understood is inspired by alien spirits, it is part of my own being.’ Sigmund Freud
The intention of this article to elucidate and explore the world of nightmares and night terrors, from a conventional, psychological and homeopathic perspectives. In my opinion, it is helpful and possibly necessary to have an understanding of the two former aspects, to aid comprehension of a phenomenon which is often without any reasonable interpretation. Thus, a brief synopsis of the psychological approach will be presented; also the conventional definition of nightmares and night terrors together with possible aetiologies, followed by ten remedies, each of which have characteristic symptoms aiding in differential diagnosis.
I have a deep personal interest in the aetiology and potential treatment particularly of night terrors. One of my children (the youngest twin), would as a toddler, leave his bed and run, terrified around the house, crying, inconsolable, unwakeable, not open to any form of consolation, not aware of my presence. Terror was etched on his face, his eyes open, face flushed, pupils dilated: he would talk, incomprehensively. Eventually he would sleep, and wake in the morning, unaware of what had happened. We, meanwhile, as parents, were helpless and to a degree, mildly traumatised by our inability to help or comfort. This continued, throughout his childhood, and now as a young adult, still occurs. As homeopathy treats the whole person, dreams are a significant and often important diagnostic tool, when seen in context with the totality of symptoms.
Possibly the biggest difference between nightmares and night terrors is that night terrors have a huge impact on those witnessing, as discussed; whilst nightmares scare those experiencing them. The person having a night terror is usually in a deep stage of sleep, despite looking as if they are awake. They will not be able to identify anyone trying to help them, or be even aware of their presence. Nor will they have any recollection of the experience. In contrast, often someone will remember their nightmare, which generally happens in the REM cycle of sleep, which is lighter, and will invariably wake, and seek solace.
The Psychological aspect
Edward Whitmont (1912-1998) both a homeopath and a Jungian psychologist, demonstrated to us that as homeopaths, we could learn much from studying psychology, specifically in his case, Jungian psychology. This is particularly pertinent with reference to dreams and nightmares, which is why it is necessary, within the context of this work to discuss this. A carefully selected homeopathic remedy can facilitate making the unconscious conscious: “dreams are allegoric and symbolic statements from a universal information bank.” (Whitmont, 1993:15-16) And a dream is a “performance that mirrors our inner reality.” (Whitmont, 1993:20). Whitmont believes, in Jungian style, that a dream reveals to the therapist, where our deep seated conflicts and tensions lie.
That which is expressed in a dream or nightmare /night terror is specific and personal to the dreamer and can only be seen in the context of the person experiencing it. Delving into the realm of psychoanalysis briefly and considering the views of the two great psychologists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, provokes an interesting framework of thoughts, whether used in a homeopathic context or not. Freud’s ‘Interpretation of dreams’ (1900) is a formative and significant publication exploring the psychoanalytical interpretation of dreams. He describes dreams as ‘the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious’ (1900: 608). He viewed them as a means of expressing a repressed wish, often one he would under normal circumstances, keep suppressed. By using a technique known as ‘free association’ he believed that the conflict manifested in the psyche could be deciphered. Fundamentally, Freud considered dreams to be a fulfilment of wishes. However, he does not focus on nightmares or night terrors, rather referring to ‘repetitive dreams of traumatic neurosis,’ what we would now possibly refer to as ‘post-traumatic stress disorder.’ The anxieties and dreams associated with these ‘neuroses’ do not fit into his theory of dreams.
In contrast Jung considered that every individual had the ability to decode their dreams, often with guidance from a professional, given that the dream was ‘unique’ to him. The unconscious psyche, revealing itself through the medium of dreams could be explored through the images visualised by the dreamer, whether it be a nightmare or dream. Jung did not believe in the repression / suppression angle of interpretation attributed to Freud; rather he saw them as a way of communicating the unconscious, thus true feelings manifesting themselves in the subconscious, which with therapy, could be made conscious.
I think it is necessary to be aware of both of these trains of thoughts when considering dreams or nightmares from a homeopath perspective, if only to respect and reflect on an area that is at best, intangible. In homeopathy it is the ‘totality of symptoms’ which directs us towards the simillimum, and in classical homeopathy, the mind symptoms remain top of the hierarchy. It is the subconscious mind which is creating the horror experienced in both nightmares and night terrors.
Definition of Nightmares and Night Terrors
It is important to clarify the difference between nightmares (medically known as ‘parasomnias’) and night terrors (‘Pavor Nocturnus.’) By understanding the presentations from a conventional medical point of view, we achieve a broader understanding of each ‘condition’ before concentrating on what is expressed from a homeopathic perspective. ‘Initially it is important for the homeopath to be satisfied with the allopathic nature of the complaint.’ (Vithoulkas, 1980: 175)
The chart below, taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2000) differentiates between night terrors (sleep terrors) and nightmares, outlining and defining each disorder as such:
Source: Reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. (Copyright 2000). American Psychiatric Association.
Invariably night terrors can be traced back to ‘Never been well since.’ There is often a trigger, whether it be of an emotional or physical cause. Colin Griffiths suggests birth trauma could be indicated (Griffiths, 2006:285). My son, discussed above, was a breech baby and was severely traumatised at birth, requiring 10 days in intensive care. He was noticeably, black and blue, then became dangerously jaundiced. He was never a ‘peaceful ‘baby and suffered from fitful sleep patterns. His twin, by contrast, who was the result of a normal delivery, wanted nothing more than to feed and sleep for long periods of time, blissfully content.
Other possible Causes of Night terrors
- Fever (in children)
- Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
- Lights or noise
- An overfull bladder
- Sleep deprivation and extreme tiredness
Sleep terrors sometimes are associated with underlying conditions that affect sleep, such as:
Sleep-disordered breathing — a group of disorders characterized by abnormal breathing patterns during sleep, the most common of which is obstructive sleep apnea
- Restless legs syndrome
- Head injuries
- Some medications
Possible causes of Nightmares
- Sometimes the ordinary stresses of daily life, such as a problem at home or school, trigger nightmares. A major change, such as a move or the death of a loved one, can have the same effect.
- Nightmares are common after an accident, injury or other traumatic event. Nightmares are prominent in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Sleep deprivation. Changes in your schedule that cause irregular sleeping and waking times or that interrupt or reduce the amount of sleep can increase your risk of having nightmares.
- Some drugs — including certain antidepressants, blood pressure medications, beta blockers, and drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease or to help you stop smoking — can trigger nightmares.
- Substance abuse. Alcohol and illegal drug use or withdrawal can trigger nightmares.
- Scary books and movies. Reading scary books or watching scary movies, especially before bed, can be associated with nightmares.
- Other disorders. Some medical conditions and mental health disorders as well as other sleep disorders can be associated with having nightmares. For instance, anxiety can be associated with a higher likelihood of recurrent nightmares
(Mayo Clinic, 2014)
There are many remedies within the materia medica that are applicable to the presentation of both night terrors and nightmares. It is therefore important to focus on what is unusual and characteristic to the individual. What follows is a list of useful remedies that often appear in bold type in the repertory.
An excellent remedy for night terrors and sleep that is prevented due to fever or anxiety. What is apparent is always the energy and violence of the presenting symptoms, with much heat, redness and throbbing: ‘Belladonna is always associated with hot red skin, flushed face, glaring eyes, throbbing carotids, excited mental state, hyperaesthesia of all senses, delirium, restless sleep..’ (Boericke, 2004:110)
On repertorising my son, this would be in retrospect the remedy that would have helped him as a child. Rubrics attributed to him:
- Pupils dilated,
- Ails from fright,
- Escape, attempts to run away
- Talking in sleep
The ‘sleep’ symptoms, given the level of extreme agitation, fear and restlessness are reflected in what was his endless daytime energy, marked vitality, restlessness and acuteness of all senses. The following encapsulates this beautifully: