Nightmare Disorder: When Frequent Bad Dreams Have Significant Negative Effects On Sleep

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For a person who has an occasional bad dream, the idea that frequent nightmares can be considered a sleep disorder may seem extreme. However, if you often must deal with vivid, terrifying dreams that make you anxious about going to sleep, that problem is indeed defined as a sleep disorder. Fortunately, you can take steps to determine what's causing this problem and resolve it, and sleep easier once again. 

About Adult Nightmares

Children are more likely to have upsetting dreams than adults are. Nevertheless, some 5 to 8 percent of adults suffer from frequent nightmares.

Experiencing problems with chronic nightmares is classified as a type of parasomnia, or unwanted experiences connected with sleep. Some other kinds of parasomnia include sleepwalking and feeling extremely confused upon awakening.

What Causes Nightmares?

People can begin having intense, disturbing dreams for many reasons, ranging from the mundane to the more significant. Do you relate to any of these?

All these issues can keep the brain more active during sleep. While some individuals experience insomnia for these reasons, others fall asleep readily but have scary dreams that wake them up. 

Sleep apnea also can cause nightmares. If you have untreated sleep apnea, you wake many times during the night because you've stopped breathing, although you probably don't remember any of this. A shortage of oxygen can lead to dreams of drowning and being unable to breathe.

Nightmare disorder also can arise seemingly out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, even when someone has never been plagued by bad dreams before. 

The Importance of Treatment

If upsetting dreams are causing you substantial sleep disruption, you may get into a cycle of sleep deprivation causing nightmares, and nightmares depriving you of restful sleep. You may experience chronic daytime sleepiness that can negatively affect your work and other activities, and can make driving hazardous. In addition, chronic poor sleep can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Consult your primary health care practitioner about the sleep problems you're having. If you take prescription drugs, you might start by switching to a different version. 

You might benefit from psychological counseling to help you deal with stress or emotional trauma.  A type of cognitive-behavioral therapy known as imagery rehearsal therapy has proven useful. In this therapy, the patient visualizes a positive ending to nightmares he or she remembers. 

If your doctor or other primary care provider believes you may have sleep apnea or another underlying sleep disorder causing the nightmares, they may refer you to a sleep clinic. 

Preparing for Your Appointment

Before you see a counselor or have an appointment at a sleep clinic, start a sleep diary if you haven't already done so. Make note of your sleeping patterns and describe the dreams you have. This will provide insight for the practitioner to better help you.

In addition, consider any possible reasons for your upsetting dreams and tell those to the counselor or sleep clinic practitioner. Describe possibly related sleep issues, such as snoring, which is a definitive symptom of sleep apnea. 

If it's determined that you could benefit from an overnight session at a sleep lab, you'll have a polysomnograph performed to help technologists diagnose any problems that could be causing the nightmares. Sensors placed on your head and body monitor brain waves, blood oxygen levels and body movements.

There's no reason to endure chronic nightmares and sleep disruption. Seek assistance from professionals who can help you with this problem so you can once again enjoy restful, uninterrupted sleep.