Nightmare Disorder, also called parasomnia, is a condition in which a person experiences frequent vivid nightmares. During the night, we go through the sleep cycle four to six times, with the length of REM sleep becoming longer each time. Nightmares occur most often during the REM stage, so patients are more likely to have them during the last half of the night.
Everyone experiences nightmares from time to time. It is when they become recurrent and create problems for the patient that the situation needs to be addressed. There are numerous triggers that can serve as a catalyst for frequent nightmares, including trauma, stress, medications, sleep deprivation, scary movies and books, and substance abuse.
Additionally, certain medical and mental health conditions such as anxiety have been linked to the disorder.
Parasomnia does not necessarily occur every night. When a person does have nightmares, they typically experience:
When nightmare disorder manifests in children, the content of the dreams will vary depending on age and gradually becomes more complex. A younger child may often dream of monsters, while older children have nightmares related to difficulties at home or school.
Most of the time, nightmares do not require treatment. However, if sleep disruptions are interfering with the patient’s ability to function during the day or creating undue stress, doctors may recommend a variety of therapies. Dreams associated with other health issues will usually improve once the condition is treated. Medications can be used to reduce REM sleep, while counseling and therapy help relieve anxiety and stress. Imagery rehearsal therapy is often used for patients with nightmares related to PTSD and other trauma.