Nightmares as a Coping Mechanism for Stress

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Summary of the article

The prevalence of nightmares among the United States’ citizens propelled Picchioni et al., (2002) to investigate the causes of nightmares. They performed an extensive review of literature linking stress to nightmares. A review of scholarly materials highlighted that Type A behavior is directly related to stress. Therefore, they sought to examine the relationship between nightmare and stress and whether nightmare is a coping mechanism for stress. They assumed that the intensity and frequency of nightmares led to daily stress. They also hypothesized that the intensity and frequency of nightmares are significantly related to life stressors. They made an assumption that social support was inversely related to nightmare frequency and intensity, which led them to believe that the intensity and frequency of nightmares are related to coping mechanisms. Their study utilized the intensity and frequency of nightmares as the independent variable and social support as the outcome variable.

Following approval from the San Jose State University, 202 male and 210 female psychology undergraduate students were approached to participate in the study. Most of the participants were aged between 18 years and 23 years. Six different tools were used to measure each of the identified variables. The study adopted Spadafora and Hunt Dream Types Survey to measure how often the participants experienced nightmares. The alpha coefficient for the nightmare items had a reliability score of.62. The intensity of the nightmare was assessed using the Nightmare Distress Questionnaire, which had a rating of 1-10 depending on how the participants were affected by the nightmare. The outcome variable of daily stressor was assessed using the Hassles and Uplifts Scale, with a ranking score of 0-159 depending on the 53 item questions that people underwent daily. The reliability of this instrument had a score of.80-93 on Cronbach’s alpha. The life sensor variable was measured using the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, a 49 items scale with typical life-changing events. Evidence from the literature showed the reliability of this tool. The elements of social support were measured using the Interpersonal Support Evaluation List, a 48 item scale in which the respondents were requested to mark true or false. A coping questionnaire was used to examine how the participants dealt with stress. Cronbach’s alpha and Interpersonal Support Evaluation List were used to measure the reliability of the coping question.

The data collected were examined using a one-way analysis of variance and a One-tailed t-test. The respondents were separated into three groups depending on the level of nightmare intensity and frequency. According to their findings, there was a significant relationship between the nightmare variables (both frequency and intensity) and daily stressors. They observed that slight hassles or disturbances caused nightmares. However, there was no relationship between life stressors and nightmare variables. Their findings also argued that a high level of social support reduced the level of nightmare variables. Coping and nightmare had a significant impact on future dreams. Picchioni and colleagues (2002) agreed that although nightmares and stress are related, the nightmare may not always be harmful. By understanding the correct environments, nightmares provide a foundation for people to condition to stressful events in their life. Coping that occurs when people are sleeping is positively related to coping when the individuals are awake.

Application to health care setting

One significant strength of this article is that it applied factorial analysis to determine underlying factors that explained the relationships between the variables used and the represented conceptual factors. The studied variables were chosen from the literature review and factor analysis was utilized to investigate if they load in line with the expected component items. The authors also assured the reliability of the study by performing a Cronbach’s alpha and other tests to assess the significance of the measuring tools. However, the study did not address standardization issues. Since the study involved human subjects, Picchioni et al. (2002) should have thought of measures to provide standards and norms of behavior that displayed the moral relationship between the researcher and the respondent. The study did not consider the confidentiality, and consent of the participants.

Studies have investigated the intensity and frequency of nightmares because it is essential in determining general psychology and post-traumatic stress disarrays (Nguyen, Madrid, Marquez & Hicks, 2002). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the frequency of nightmares is a significant tool in assessing nightmare disorders (Patrick & Durndell, 2004). The frequency of nightmares lies in the range of 12 to 45 nightmares per year depending on the perception of the nightmare. Approximately one-tenth of the population in the U.S report having regular nightmares (Patrick & Durndell, 2004). Nightmares have been connected to psychopathology, stress, and personality traits like neuroticism as well as thin boundaries such as hyper-connectivity of psychological material in the brain (Patrick & Durndell, 2004). According to the article, social support is a significant factor in reducing the frequencies of nightmares. Picchioni et al. (2002) suggest that nightmares may provide a foundation for people to adapt to stressful events. Coping that occurs when individuals are sleeping is positively related to coping that occurs when the individuals are awake. Picchioni et al.’s (2002) study contribute to strategies that health care professionals can use to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.


Nguyen, T. T., Madrid, S., Marquez, H., & Hicks, R. A. (2002). Nightmare frequency, nightmare distress, and anxiety. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 95, 219-225.

Patrick, A., & Durndell, A. (2004). Lucid dreaming and personality: A replication. Dreaming, 14, 234- 239.

Picchioni, D., Goeltzenleuncher, B., Green, D. N., Convento, M. J., Crittenden, R., Hallgren, M., & Hicks, R. A. (2002). Nightmares as a coping mechanism for stress. Dreams, 12(3), 155- 169.

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NursingBird. 2022. "Nightmares as a Coping Mechanism for Stress." April 14, 2022.

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NursingBird. "Nightmares as a Coping Mechanism for Stress." April 14, 2022.