Nightmares – What are they and how do you treat them

Nightmares that occur frequently are a parasomnia dream state event, in which visual sequences unfold that often depict imagery or situations that are particularly disturbing or frightening to the individual experiencing them, and may often come from fears in their own subconscious.

When is a nightmare a disorder? Nightmares are considered a sleeping disorder when they occur frequently enough that they disrupt sleep on a regular basis, and may cause the subject further fear of sleeping, which can lead to sleep deprivation and the formation of other sleeping disorders or medical or psychological conditions.

Nightmares vs Night Terrors

Nightmares are different from night terrors (sleep terrors) in that they are similar to a regular dream involving images and sound, but the images often invoke fear or anxiety in the subject. Sleep terrors contain no imagery or sound, just an overwhelming sense of unshakable fear, and may also be accompanied by temporary sleep paralysis. They are only considered as such when they cause an immediate awakening from sleep, which usually occurs at the climax, or extreme point of terror of the nightmare. Other instances of scary dreams that may be recalled, but did not cause awakenings are just considered bad dreams. They are often vividly recalled, and the sense of fear felt during them may continue for some time even after waking. Nightmares may also lead to bed-wetting in people prone to bedwetting, though the statistics for this are not known with certainty.

When do Nightmares Happen?

parasomnias, nightmares, and other sleep disorders

Night mares occur largely in the REM sleep, but may occur in other stages of sleep in some cases, often in the case of a particularly stressful or traumatic event being on a person’s mind while lying in mind. This can lead to entering the dream state directly from sleep. They are rarely lucid dreams, meaning they are not recognized as dreams by the person experiencing them, which of course leads to the increased level of terror felt by them.

How common are nightmares?

They are extremely common, and may affect as many as 80-90% of people at some point in their lives. This phenomenon can begin as early as age 3, and are common in young children. They generally lessen as a person grows up, but most adults will also have them on occasion during their lives. They are common in both males and females.
Nightmares as a chronic sleeping disorder are much less common, and affect about 5% of the population.

Some of these cases can be caused by medication use, or by extreme levels of anxiety in everyday life. There is also a slight increase in the chances of having them as a sleeping disorder if someone in your family has a similar problem. Sleep deprivation may also be a cause of nightmares, but whether this could lead to chronic nightmares is unverified.


Correlates and Treatments of Nightmares in Adults

Best Practice Guide for the Treatment of Nightmare Disorder in Adults

Nightmares in the general population: identifying potential causal factors

How do you treat nightmares?

Dr. Sleep

These parasomnias are most typically treated by doctors or therapists, and not sleep doctors, as they are rarely related to any other sleeping disorders, and are not corrected through any changes in sleep hygiene. They will most often be caused by mental disturbances, sleep deprivation, or may have no identifiable cause. Most often chronic nightmares are caused by psychological issues though, and for this a psychologist or therapist should be consulted. Counseling or psychotherapy are effective treatments for resolving the issues that are likely causing them. Those that often recall a particular traumatic event or person that causes the person stress may require more intensive therapy. Hypnosis has also been cited to have uses in the field of dealing with dreams or nightmares, though conclusive statistics on this do not exist. Medications may also be used. Uses for medications in relation to nightmares include preventing time spent in deep sleep where nightmares are most likely to begin, though this approach is considered controversial, as deep sleep is considered much more important than reducing the occurrence of nightmares. Another approach of medications is to reduce the amount of awakenings caused by nightmares.

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6 thoughts on “Nightmares – What are they and how do you treat them

  1. Amanda Pythe Reply

    I have had multiple nightmares in which I am brutally murdered every night for almost five years. I am currently 16, and it’s making me struggle in school. I can’t focus well in class because all I can think of is falling asleep, even though I know I won’t be asleep for long. I can’t think of any triggers for the dreams and I have tried many different medications and home remedies, but nothing has helped.

  2. Anne Tibbet Reply

    In the past I have had night terrors where I throw myself around the bedroom crashing into things and I discovered that when I stopped taking tylenol the terrors went away. However now they have come back where I come to screaming for help. One thing I’ve noticed is that I have been eating dinner later and later until I find myself eating at about 9:00 p.m. So I will try not eating after 5 or 6 because I usually go to bed around 12.

  3. Don King Reply

    Everyone should look at their diet. I stopped eating cheap snack foods and began eating meals cooked at home with only salt and pepper to flavor them.I avoid pre-packaged foods with flavor packets to pour in. If I eat at a restaurant, and I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat there anymore. I also don’t eat after 5pm. This has helped to almost eleminate my problem. God Bless.

  4. Anamika Reply

    Hii my name is Anamika I m 17years old. I want to get rid of my horror dreams these dreams doesn’t let me to sleep whole night I keep on thinking about horror films even when I don’t want to think. I m patient of migraine. I feel good when I talk to someone when I feel terryfing please help me to get rid of this prblm.Thankyou

  5. Frank Reply

    Hi my name is Frank and I went through a 10 year ordeal with immigration and removal proceedings. I lost a good paying job last year I now have a horrible job with a horrible owner that is affecting me deeply. I had to be married to stay in America but I seperated from my wife last month. I have been to psychiatrists fed Anti-psychotics and benzodiazepines because of tension and one time I was admitted in a hospital for insomnia (2015). Now I take blood pressure medication and restoril. But I am very worried about my health and today I feel that nightmares are making me wake up and this I feel sends a shock wave to the body and brain and causes a horrific cycle of tension and insomnia that leaves me not being able to function and obviously depressed.I will be seeing a therapist and I read prazosin is a medication for blood pressure and nightmares,what do you think I can do to treat this? I want to be happy and get away from that destructive job, which I think is the driving force of my issues. Thank you for your time.

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