College Nightmares, Years After and Off Campus

The general theory in the realm of science is that dreams are a way for the brain to digest daily events during sleep.

People are less interested in how dreams occur and instead ask to the age old question, “What does this dream, or nightmare, mean?”

Nightmares are an essential part of dreaming.  The meaning of dreams and nightmares is more theoretical than the science of dreams.  Some are more common than others.

There is a specific type of dream shared by a majority of people who have been through college.  Although it reportedly occurs infrequently, the impact is especially strong.  It is known as the “College Nightmare.”

The “College Nightmare”, shared by many graduates of all state and regional institutions, has many versions.  Forgetting to attend a class for a whole semester, showing up late to a final or arriving to class naked are three popular versions of the “College Nightmare.”  Some versions of the “College Nightmare” are less common, such as dreaming about forgetting a locker vital combination in a public place while on a time crunch.

“I rarely sleep [at finals time], if ever,” Cherrelle Butler, senior Art and Design major at Missouri State University, said.

Nightmares are typically attributed to stress and anxiety.  Chemically, stress engages the sympathetic nervous system in the body and initiates what is known as the “fight-or-flight” response in areas of psychology. It can be marked by an increase in cortisol, a steroid hormone part of neurochemistry that suppresses the immune systems. Cortisol is also part of the reason individuals under constant stress have a tendency to gain weight. In college, it is known more affectionately as the, “freshmen fifteen.”

The “College Nightmare” is less affectionately named, and for clear reasons according to individuals who have experienced them.

“I have nightmares about college all the time,” Rachel Todd, senior English major, said.  “I’ve even had them where I’m attacked in my bedroom.”

Even college graduation, which is usually a positive time, is stressful enough to cause nightmares in some students, according to NPR.

The most common “college nightmare” is when also known as a “Recurring Final Exam Dream” or simply “The Dream.”  After forgetting about being in a class an entire semester, the individual suddenly remembers being enrolled in the course the day of the final exam, and has not done the reading and is not prepared for the examination.

According to Psychology Today, there are many different ways to interpret “The Dream.”

“The Dream” may serve as an subliminal reminder to remember an upcoming date, such as an important birthday or anniversary.   Another interpretation is that the dream reflects the individual’s low confidence for the future, or “The Dream” could also reflect the impending responsibility or loss of responsibility after the individual failed to remember something relevant to their life.

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has conducted research on the stress levels experienced by adults. NIMH found that roughly 6.7% of U.S adults experience major depressive disorder.

Although the average age for the onset of a major depressive disorder is 32, National Institute for Mental Health have found that 3.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have experienced a serious depressive disorder that was reported as debilitating.

In addition, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association compared the reported stress levels of Millennials was a 5.4 on a 10 point scale, with 10 being extreme stress. The 2012 average for the United States was a 4.9, slightly below halfway.

76 percent of Millennials reported work being the top stressor, with 73 percent also citing money, according to the American Psychological Association.

With so many factors that attribute to stress concurrently impacting individuals in college, the experience has left a mark on individuals, preventing solace, even while sleeping.