What is it?
Nightmare disorder is a parasomnia that involves undesired events that follow sleep. These nightmares are of disturbing nature. There are visual dream sequences that occur in your mind and also wake you up from sleep.
This disorder develops when you get nightmares on a frequent basis. This might develop a fear from sleeping. These nightmares also keep you away from sleeping well. When you wake up, you might feel anxious and scared.
You can’t go back to sleep again. The loss of sleep might lead worsening of the condition. These sleep problems will make you lethargic during the day. Nightmares seem real and disturbing as they unfold. The nightmare disorder provokes certain emotions:
Nightmares usually occur during rapid-eye-movement sleep. We should not confuse nightmare disorder with a sleep terror. Since a person suffering from sleep terror often thrashes, kicks, screams or bolts out of bed. It can even result in physical injury. Mostly middle-aged men suffer from this disorder.
Who gets it?
Nightmare disorder can begin at any age. It usually begins when a child is six years of age. Nightmare disorder is found at equal rates in both boys and girls. The nightmares in children reach its peak by 10 yrs. of age. It tends to decrease as you age. But there are some teens and adults who continue to suffer from this disorder. It might become a lifelong problem for them. Adult women report nightmare disorder more than adult men. Medications might also lead to nightmare disorder in some cases. It might be genetic also.
There are certain symptoms which indicate that you are suffering from nightmare disorder. These are:
- Often waking up from sleep due to disturbing dream
- These dreams often evoke emotions of fear and disgust
- If you are able to recall details of the dream
- If these dreams occur during later period of the sleep
- If you have trouble going back to sleep again
All these signs suggest that you have Nightmare disorder. There are other problems also which might cause sleep problems. There might be other reasons also:
- A medical condition
- Substance abuse
- A mental health disorder
- Another sleep disorder
- Medication use
Why should you consult a sleep specialist?
Consulting a sleep specialist becomes necessary if nightmares disrupt your sleep and cause anxiety. You should inform the specialist about the frequency of the disorder and what the dreams are about. This will help the sleep specialist make an accurate diagnosis of your problem. Sleep specialist instead of treating the nightmares may refer you to an experienced counselor or psychologist. The doctor needs to be informed about the start of the nightmare. A complete account of the medical history needs to be undertaken. You should try to find out if you had family members with sleep disorders. Maintaining a sleep diary will help your doctor understand your sleeping pattern. This will help the doctor to correct it.
Tests are not needed for people suffering from nightmares. The doctor needs to do an Overnight sleep study if it is severely disturbing your sleep. This study is called Polysomnogram which charts your heart rate, brain waves, and breathing when you sleep. This study will also reveal if you are suffering from any other sleep disorder. It is treated with psychotherapy. Counseling helps resolve the conflict that produces these nightmares. Underlying causes of the nightmare can be addressed by a therapist. A person having nightmare due to a traumatic event in their life will require Intensive therapy. Systemic desensitization involves gradual exposure to the dream content. Hypnosis is another form of treatment for Nightmare disorder. Relaxation training may also help. This will help you to go back to sleep overcoming anxiety and tension. Only in extreme cases medications are suggested. Some medications reduce awakening from dreams.
Tips for parent
Most children have nightmare frequently. These tips are helpful for a child suffering from nightmare disorder:
- Use a dim light in your child’s room
- Discuss nightmares openly with your child
- Assure your children that it is normal to have nightmares
- Talk to your child’s doctor
- Let your child sleep with a special blanket or stuff toys
- Comfort your child whenever they have a nightmare
The prognosis is very helpful in resolving the symptoms as time passes. It is very necessary to give reassurance to the child and parents that it is a relatively normal experience to have nightmares in some young children. The children should have a relaxing bedtime routine that does not vary. If proper attention is given to causes of stress, then it would definitely relieve the propensity of the nightmares. The child’s anxiety can be reduced to some extent by the use of night lights. There have been psychological techniques such as imagery rehearsal treatments which might be useful in dealing with the nightmares. A multi-disciplinary approach towards the disorder is very necessary to help overcome the problem.