You hunt for a place to hide. Maybe you are drowning, struggling in dark water. Or perhaps your plane is hurtling toward the ground.
Nine out of ten of us awake suddenly from dreams such as these. Researchers estimate that at least 5 percent of the population, probably more, suffers regularly from nightmares. These bad dreams may strike a few times a week or a few times a month. Studies show recurrent nightmares are grossly underreported.
"Nightmares are so confusing to people," says Barry Krakow, M.D., medical director for the Center for Sleep Medicine and Nightmare Treatment in Albuquerque, N.M. "They think it is their psyche screaming out, but that's only part of the story."
Unlike most normal dreams, nightmares don't appear to help a person work through the events in their daily lives. Even after decades of research, scientists still puzzle over why some people have nightmares but others don't. Although the causes of recurrent nightmares are still mysterious, some personality patterns have emerged among those who experience them.