‘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:
‘The Belladonna vitality and vividness are nowhere more apparent than in the child, who is full of energy and restlessness. His appearance is characterised by red cheeks, hot skin and glistening eyes. He jumps around all over the room, from the chair to the table to the bed. In the consultation room he will not stay in one place. This is a lively child, full of imagination and very impressionable. Whatever the child experiences during the day seems to be re-lived during sleep. The mother will tell you about his sleep and the intensity with which this child sleeps, the restlessness, talking or screaming during sleep, even getting up and walking around. The child is difficult to wake’… (Vithoulkas, on-line: 2012)
Calc carb is a wonderful remedy for both children and adults alike, who experience multiple fears and anxieties. This often leads them to having poor sleep patterns and nightmares or night terrors. ‘Mind: Imagines someone in the room. Fear of monsters. Visions of fire, murder, rats and mice in delirium.’ Sleep: Night terrors, starts at every noise, fears she will go crazy. Nightmares in children, scream after midnight and cannot be pacified. Dreams of the dead, of monsters.’ (Murphy, 2006: 412)
‘There is one other indication for calcarea carb. When the children are below par they become nervous and scared. They are perfectly happy so long as there is somebody about, and they sit peacefully or play; but when it gets dark they are scared to go to bed without a light in the room. They develop acute nightmares and wake up in the night screaming. A very common type of the calcarea carb child’s nightmare is seeing horrible faces in the dark.’ (Borland, D: 3)
With specific reference to nightmares or night terrors, Bailey (1995) sums up the stramonium picture, without any elaboration: ‘Stramonium individuals are subject to all manner of night terrors, delusions and hallucinations, and they usually dread the night, because it is then they become haunted by the horrors of their own subconscious mind.’ (Bailey, 1995: 337)
Stramonium is indicated for both nightmares and night terrors, in adults and children. Often it is particularly effective for those who have witnessed or experienced violence and are incapable of forgetting it, (as in post-traumatic stress disorder) thus sleep becomes full of images reflecting danger, particularly of tunnels and closed places. Children are fearful of the dark: ‘wants light but turns away from direct light’ Awakes in fear, or screaming, recognizes no one. Clings to those near, or strikes them. NIGHT TERRORS in children. Somnabulism. (Vermeulen, 2004:1287)
The stramonium patient is subject to hallucinations, delirium, mania. Everything is magnified and vivid, relentless in its manifestation. ‘Characteristic wild animal look in the eyes, clinical possession, they talk in other languages, other voices, violent speech, rages and ravings. Vithoulkas described it as uncontrolled eruption of the unconscious.’ (Murphy, 2006: 1849)
There are many paradoxes seen within the stramonium patient, and much turbulence and turmoil is evident: “Driven by confusion, fears, and vulnerability, Stramonium is engaged in an ongoing and violent battle between the unconscious and the conscious, between darkness and light, between succumbing to the death realm and yearning to exist in the life realm. (Herscu, 1996: 32)
The person that generally would benefit from Paeonia is often nervous, depressed and irritable ‘Much affected by bad news’ (Murphy, 2006: 1461)
It is particularly effective for the relief of terrifying nightmares, particularly those associated with ghosts or spirits.
‘Dreams: of a figure, or ghost sitting on his chest; anxious; vivid; frightful; amorous; quarrelsome.’ (Hering, C)
The phosphorus person is well defined as being ‘sensitive to external impressions.’ They have a lot of fears, including thunderstorms, the dark, being alone, ghosts, their health. It is a particularly effective remedy for those who have nightmares as if ‘something was creeping out of every corner: ‘For relief of fearfulness as if something were creeping out of every corner. Clairvoyant state. Oversensitive to external impressions. Restless, fidgety. Vivid dreams of fire. Short naps and frequent waking. (Boericke, 2004:507)
This remedy could be particularly effective where sleep walking is identified as part of the case, in conjunction with night terrors. Also helpful with migraines and attacks of fainting characterized by coldness. ’Aurum bromatum was recommended by Dr. E Hale as being superior to other preparations of gold, especially in certain nervous disorders of an epileptiform character, such as migraine, night terrors, sleep walking.’ (Murphy, 2006:273)
Cina is primarily a children remedy and is well indicated for children who experience night terrors, with accompanying daytime hyperactivity and irritability, often associated with parasitic infection. ‘Gets on hands and knees in sleep. Screams and talks in sleep, grinds teeth at night in sleep. Night terrors in children, cries out, screams, wakens frightened.’ (Murphy, 2006: 578)
The person requiring carcinosin would generally be sensitive and sympathetic in nature, who doesn’t appreciate consolation. Often an abusive relationship is part of the picture. Often indicated where there has been chronic sleeplessness since birth, sometimes without cause, other times from grief or excessive mental activity. The night terrors are often chronic in nature (Murphy, 2006: 476) and the child will often sleep in the genopectoral position. If awakened from a nightmare, a child could be rocked back to sleep.
For people that are generally experiencing ‘brain drain’ and have an overactive mind. Nervous exhaustion. The over-sensitive, nervous, delicate person, worn out from long suffering, much sorrow and vexation, and prolonged mental work; also such as are broken down from sexual excesses and vices.
‘Restlessness and heat during sleep, Sleepwalking. Sighing and moaning during sleep. Amorous dreams. Night terrors. Awakening with fright and screaming.’ (Murphy, 2006: 1070)
Often a brilliant remedy for an intellectual person, who experiences nightmares. Much talking, jerking and twitching during sleep. He is generally hot and will stick feet out of the bed covers. Vivid dreams. Wakes frequently and becomes wide awake suddenly. Slightest noise awakens. Cannot sleep between 2 and 5 a.m. (Murphy, 2006: 1869.) Awakened by the slightest noise and finds it difficult to get back to sleep
The Sulphur patient is the victim of much trouble in his sleep. He is very sleepy in the fore part of the night, at times sleeping till 3 A.M., but from that time on he has restless sleep, or does not sleep at all. He dreads daylight, wants to go to sleep again, and when he does sleep he can hardly be aroused, and wants to sleep late in the morning. That is the time he gets his best rest and his soundest sleep. He is much disturbed by dreadful dreams and nightmare. (Kent, 2004:957-958)
Conclusion and recommendations
Through the presentation of nightmares and night terrors from varying angles, including conventional medical classification and aetiologies, in addition to the views of both Freud and Jung, a comprehensive background has hopefully been achieved. Given this, a homeopathic consultation with a patient suffering from nightmares/terrors should potentially be easier to manage due to a clearer understanding of ‘the bigger picture.’ What is required is for a full case to be taken; symptoms and dreams in isolation are inadequate. Seek out what is characteristic to the patient, and what is particularly striking about the dreams, together with modalities. Nightmares/terrors are a constant reality for some and are an important indication of imbalance in the Vital Force.
“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”
― John Lennon
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