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Nightmare Disorder

Do you tend to wake up at night, terrified or threatened?

Nightmare disorder is described as a state in which an individual has repeated dreams in which they feel threatened or frightened, which the fear then causes the person to wake up. An individual who suffers from Nightmare Disorder experiences constant nightmares, which in turn cause distress, disrupts their sleeping patterns, and causes them to have problems with their daytime functioning or may even make them have a fear of going to sleep.

What are the symptoms of Nightmare Disorder?

Nightmares tend to happen during the second portion of the night and may occur rarely, frequently or even several times throughout the nights. In addition, such episodes tend to be brief, but long enough to cause you to awaken. Individuals who suffer from such disorder tend to also have difficulty falling back asleep after they have experienced a nightmare.

The following may be associated with a nightmare:

  • Dream appears to be vivid and real in addition to it being very upsetting and disturbing as it unfolds
  • An individuals dream is often related to threats to safety or survival
  • The dream awakens an individual
  • Individual feels scared, angry, anxious, sad, or disgusted as a result of the dream
  • An individual may feel sweaty or have a pounding heartrate while in bed
  • An individual can often think clearly when they awake and recall majority or all details of the dream
  • An individual becomes distressed enough that they are not able to fall back asleep quite easily

However, nightmares are only considered a disorder if the following occurs:

  • Frequent occurrences
  • An individual experiences daytime sleepiness, fatigue, or low energy
  • Individual experiences behavior problems related to their bedtime ot fear of the dark
  • Individual has a hard time functioning at work, school, or social situations
  • Individuals have a hard time concentrating or with memory or cannot stop thinking about the images that appeared in their dreams
  • Individual experiences major distress or impairment during the day (i.e. anxiety or persistent fear)

When should an individual seek medical help?

Although nightmares may be common however, if the following applies it is important to seek help as soon as you can:

  • The nightmares occur frequently or persist over time
  • It is constantly disrupting sleep
  • You may be afraid of going to sleep
  • They are causing you daytime behavior problems, or you have a hard time functioning

What causes and/or triggers Nightmare Disorder?

  • Stress or anxiety (i.e. death of a loved one or a move)
  • Trauma (i.e. injury, physical or sexual abuse)
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Medications (i.e. antidepressants, blood pressure medication, or drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease)
  • Substance abuse (i.e. alcohol)
  • Other disorder (i.e. depression, heart disease, or cancer)
  • Scary book and movies

How is Nightmare Disorder treated?

Although treatment is usually not necessary, the following may be used:

  • Medical treatment
  • Stress or anxiety treatment (i.e. counseling, therapy, stress-reduction techniques)
  • Imagery rehearsal therapy
  • Medication

What can I do for myself or someone I know to help treat Nightmare Disorder?

  • Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime (i.e. read a book, make a puzzle, or take a warm bath)
  • Offer yourself or loved one reassurance
  • Talk about the dream
  • Rewrite the ending (i.e. imagine a happy ending)
  • Put stress in its place (i.e. practice stress-relief activities, talk about it)
  • Provide comfort measures (i.e. leave the door open)