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Dr. Andrew Rynne
MD
Dr. Andrew Rynne

Family Physician

Exp 50 years

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Article Home Mental and Behavioural Disorders Nightmares

Nightmares

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A feeling of nightmare is a dream occurring during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that brings out strong fear, terror, distress, or extreme anxiety. Nightmares are usually in the latter part of the night and wake up the sleeper, who is able to remember the content of the dream.

Nightmares tend to be more common among children and become less frequent toward adulthood. About 50% of adults have occasional nightmares, women more often than men.

Causes

Anxiety and stress are the most common causes of nightmares. A major life event occurs before the nightmare in most cases.

Other causes of nightmares include

  • Abrupt alcohol withdrawal
  • Breathing disorder in sleep (sleep apnea)
  • Death of a loved one (bereavement)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Illness with a fever
  • Reaction to or side effect of a drug
  • Recent withdrawal from a drug, such as sleeping pills
  • Sleep disorder (narcolepsy, sleep terror disorder)
  • Eating just before going to bed, which raises the body's metabolism and brain activity, may cause nightmares to occur more often.

Contact your health care provider if

You have nightmares more often than on a weekly basis.

Nightmares stop you from getting a good night's rest and keeping up with your daily activities for a prolonged period of time.

 

Tests that may be done include

  • Complete blood tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Thyroid function tests
  • EEG

Home care

  • Seek support from friends and relatives if you are under severe stress. Talking about what is bothering you will help.
  • Also, follow a regular fitness routine, with aerobic exercise if possible. You will find that you will be able to fall asleep faster, sleep more deeply, and wake up feeling more refreshed.
  • Learn techniques to reduce muscle tension (relaxation therapy), which also will help reduce your anxiety.
  • If you noticed that your nightmares started shortly after you began taking a new medication, contact your health care provider. He or she will let you know how to stop taking that medication if necessary, and can recommend an alternative.
  • For nightmares caused by the effects of "street drugs" or regular alcohol use, ask for advice on the best ways to quit.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning. Avoid long-term use of tranquilizers, as well as caffeine and other stimulants.