The Power of Nightmares: An Exploration of “In the Back of My Head”

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By Jacob Maslow

In this thriller by I.Y. Maslow, the author explores the power of nightmares and how a recurring nightmare may or may not reflect a true-life event. “In the Back of My Head” is a captivating work of fiction with several unexpected twists and turns. The novel is Maslow’s first, a feat considering that he presented a fantastic piece of work at the age of 18.

Let’s take a closer look at the book and try and discover the real power of nightmares.

Exploring “In the Back of My Head”

“It was just a nightmare. The same annoyingly recurring one I’ve had since I was eight years old. Like a dog playing fetch, they come and go, never leaving me.” These lines come from the novel, expressing how insomniac Cole Torsney starts his journey to discover the identity of the girl he sees in his nightmares.

What drives Cole’s determination is that his dreams feel like suppressed memories, and the young girl, Grace, is always held captive. At his questions, the people he trusts reassure him that he never knew a girl called Grace, nor did he ever live through an event that resembled his nightmares.

The nightmares feel too vivid for Cole to believe what they tell him. Additionally, as he delves into trying to unearth the truth, he learns things that ignite even more questions. Who kidnapped him and why? Who was Grace? Why did she die? How did he manage to escape?

Cole also realizes that his mother committed suicide just before he started having nightmares when he was eight. So that leaves him with another big question: why did they flee their hometown with his father after his mother’s death?

Without giving away anything further in respect of those who haven’t read it yet, the book encompasses the suspense and mystery you would expect, including several suspects. However, the author hasn’t omitted to add a touch of romance and humor into the flow.

It is tempting to read the book in one quick sweep, but don’t. Instead, concentrate on the plot as you enjoy the story’s unfolding and the twists and turns that will keep you on edge until the end.

Maslow’s Interest in Writing and Nightmares

Maslow has a vivid imagination, and he realized this early on –  his action figurines and Legos were not proving satisfactory as he tried to create worlds where a lot was happening. So he pushed his toys aside by age eleven and played stories in his head instead. So, he naturally started putting these intricate stories on paper a few years later.

For “In the Back of My Head,” Maslow explores schizophrenic twists or hallucinations realistically in a different approach to what we usually see in books or movies. He also approaches the difficult topic of emotional abuse from a level far more mature than his age. Through his story, he calls out adults for using excuses to shrug off problems instead of taking action.

Understanding Dreams and Nightmares

We see our most vividly remembered dreams during periods of quiet sleep like REM sleep. Most people have about 20% of discontinuous REM sleep at night, occurring in four or five periods.

When the brain is less active, we have our most vivid dreams that we can easily recall. The reason –  during REM, some regions within the brain, including the thalamus and some parts of the cortex, remain active.

Nightmares happen during the lengthier periods of REM, typically about halfway through our sleep. We usually see dreams as we emerge from REM, making it easier to remember what we dreamed or to reproduce the images from a nightmare seen while in deeper REM.

Children between three and six see more nightmares than adults because of their vulnerability to threats at these tender ages. However, it’s believed that in the U.S., between 3 and 7% of the population is severely affected by nightmares.

Children can suffer from night terrors during the deepest part of non-REM sleep. Since they don’t see the night terrors during REM, they differ from nightmares because the dreamer forgets what they have seen by the morning. The cause of night terrors is fears that arise during the various sleep phase transitions.

PTSD and Nightmares

In I.Y. Maslow’s book “In the Back of My Head,” Cole’s past trauma continues to haunt him in recurring nightmares. We quote from the book, “Sleep is a daunting chore……Each morning I wake more exhausted than before.”

However, can trauma lead to nightmares? According to scientists, yes. The causes of nightmares include anxiety, stress, mental health disorders, medications, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Nightmares are one of the criteria used to diagnose PTSD since studies have found that 80% of sufferers have frequent nightmares that replay the trauma exactly.

It’s believed that the brain region involved in fear behaviors and identifying potential threats becomes highly sensitive and overactive when a person suffers trauma, resulting in nightmares, daytime flashbacks, or general anxiety during waking hours for victims.

Identifying the stressor is imperative to treating nightmares successfully. Often the treatment may include either therapy, medication, or both. Nightmare frequency and distress are often treated with cognitive therapy, using image rehearse therapy (IRT). The sufferer rewrites their repeated traumatic nightmare, giving it a positive ending. Several studies have shown that IRT reduces the distress of the person and the frequency of their nightmares.

More from Maslow

I.Y. Maslow has not suffered abuse, yet he wrote a powerful page-turner. The debut author displays the experience and maturity of an older person in his writing. Born in Brooklyn, he moved overseas with his family when he was 12—but recently returned there alone to concentrate on his writing.

Mr. Maslow works as a real estate broker in the Big Apple.

The good news is that Maslow recently revealed in this interview that he is working on several writing projects and believes his next book will blow up!

As a passionate journalist and owner of several blogs, I am proud of my son’s side hustle. 

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