Learn About Ailments | Nightmares


Nightmares are distressing dreams that trigger disturbing emotional responses such as fear, anxiety, stress or melancholy. Nightmares are the body's way of dealing with stress and can cause the sleeper to temporarily awaken in an agitated state. Nightmares can be caused by illness, medications, deep rooted emotions, negative past experiences, stressful situations from the previous day or family bereavement.

In This Article
Causes of nightmares Symptoms of nightmares
Diagnosis of nightmares Related Terms

Nightmares can be caused by a number of physical and psychological reasons. Nightmares occur during REM sleep typically during the middle of night and onward. Nightmares can usually be recalled on wakening and tend to occur during emotional turmoil or times of insecurity.

In adults, prescription drugs, illegal drugs and excessive alcohol consumption are common causes of nightmares. Nightmares can also be due to unresolved psychological and emotional trauma. People suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently suffer with nightmares.

Emotional conflict between parents can be a trigger for nightmares in children. However, child nightmares can be a natural part of growing up and are considered a normal part of development.

Frequent episodes of nightmares can be an indicator of deeper psychological problems and may require professional intervention to determine their cause.

Nightmare symptoms appear on waking. A person may feel frightened, anxious and physical tense. Night terrors, which occur during non-REM sleep, can cause someone to wake up sweating heavily with a rapid heart-rate. The person may also be screaming in fear and completely unaware of their surroundings.

Unlike nightmares, night terrors are difficult to recall and generally people are unsure what scared them. Some people who experience night terrors may also sleepwalk.

Nightmares are usually a natural response and do not require any medical intervention. If they are persistent then it may be an indication of a physical or psychological problem. In the first instance you should visit your GP who will question you on about your symptoms and possible reasons for your disturbed sleep.

The GP will attempt to rule out any physical problems before diagnosing a psychological cause to your nightmares. If necessary, you may be referred to a mental health specialist such as a counsellor or psychotherapist.


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