Hi Ruth -
The average rate of nightmares among adult members of the population is about one per year. You currently experience one nightmare per month, so you are correct is assessing that your frequency is higher than the norm.
It is a curious aspect of dreams that they tend to concern unpleasant emotions twice as often as they do pleasant ones. Whether this is a genuine feature of dreams - that we actually spend more time dreaming about our fears than pleasant associations - or if it is a product of our selective memory for dreams - that is - we simply tend to remember unpleasant dreams better - is open to debate.
Psychiatrists generally concur that frequent nightmares indicate a less-developed ability for managing stress and/or disturbing feelings than ordinary. For example, nightmares (nightmares are defined as dreams whose content causes us so much anxiety that we awaken directly from them) are much more prevalent in children than in adults. The logic is that children have not yet learned the coping skills that adults gradually acquire.
All of this aforesaid, I am compelled to reassure you that your nightmares - which concern your own safety and security issues - are the most common of all. I think the fact that your husband works shifts absolutely contributes to this periodic fear of vulnerability. You are alone in the house, and I guarantee you that millions of people share your sense of vulnerability when their spouse and bed-partner is away.
I have two concrete suggestions for you. The first is that you should sleep with some amount of light on in your room, so that you will always be able to orient yourself upon awakening from sleep. Why don’t you pay a visit to your local hardware store and pick up a night light? Remember, it doesn’t need to be very bright - because your eyes will be adjusted to the dark when you wake up during the night.
Secondly, you may wish to avoid watching any “fear based” television programming at night just before retiring, and this includes the local and world news - and also suspense movies. Images and reports of violence kindle fears for our own safety - and these lingering images often later become the subjects of our dreams. Watch the news when you get up in the morning, and save your pre-sleep ritual for calming activities - a cup of hot herb tea, a bath or hot shower, the reading of a pleasant or uplifting book. You may also derive some comfort - if you don’t already have one - from the addition of a dog to your household. Dogs are good company when we are alone - and they really will protect us and deter attack should anyone ever come knocking who’s not invited.
Please write back and let us know if these tips give you some peace of mind. Thousands of readers will be interested to know your success!