The cause for nightmare disorder has not been yet fully established and only hypothetical theories associated with deranged neurotransmitters levels in the brain has been provided. Its most common cause remains idiopathic only. The organic and functional brain disorders are most commonly seen as associated causes in this disorder. The relation of this disorder with the dietary intake, types of foods and the drugs or medication intake is invariable with no specific data strongly advocating for it.
What Foods Cause Nightmares?
Even though the exact cause is unknown, there are studies which have found the association of nightmares with that of types of foods. It is more commonly associated with the dinner diet and posts dinner snacks. Heavy meals are rich in fats and carbohydrates before sleeping is the most commonly associated reasons for nightmares. Cakes, cookies, biscuits, bread, pasta, chocolates, soft drinks, etc. which are rich in glucose as well as caffeine causes the individual to remain awake and causes nightmares during sleep. In a study conducted on students, it has shown about 31% correlation of the high carbohydrate food with nightmares and bizarre dreams.
In a study of an international psychophysiology journal, the correlation of spicy foods and nightmares has been established with evidence of the studies. The hypothetical mechanism has been stated as the body produces a high amount of heat and energy to digest the spicy foods which can disturb the temperature of the body and in turn disturb the brain activity causing nightmares. Alcohol, although it is not a food item, is very strongly associated with the nightmares because it can easily derange the brain activity and bizarre dreams are seen.
What Medicines Cause Nightmares?
Although direct causation with the medications is not completely established it has been found that certain medications are responsible for causing and increasing the frequency of nightmares. Narcotic and opiate group of drugs which are commonly associated with abuse are known to produce horrifying dreams due to the uninhibited activity of the brain with the activation of mu receptors. These include morphine, pethidine, methadone, buprenorphine, butorphanol pentazocine, etc. Abuse of lysergic acid diethylamine popularly known as LSD and other central nervous stimulants like amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, etc. can cause a powerful bad trip and nightmare after the abuse and can also convert to night terror. Drugs acting on cannabinoid receptors like bhang, charas, ganja, hashish, marijuana can also be associated with nightmare episodes.
Withdrawal of psychiatric medications used for sleep disorders and other neurotic disorders like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety drugs, etc. are the common cause of relapse of nightmare disorder. Few of them are fluoxetine, paroxetine, dothiepin, carbamazepine, amitriptyline, etc. whose withdrawal is associated with the nightmare disorder. Relapse can be more severe and more frequent than the previous disorder. Few nonpsychiatric groups of drugs also found to be associated with this disorder. It includes antihypertensives, vasodilators, and inotropic drugs, etc. as the few groups of drugs responsible for it.
Specific causes have not been found till yet which are responsible for nightmare disorder but few associations here and there has been recognized. The two of them are a type of foods and medication usage. Spicy foods especially rich in sauces, chili flakes, etc. has been found to have the strongest association with bizarre and fearful dreams. Foods rich in carbohydrates and glucose content also are connected with this disease. Alcohol and maida flour content items are also responsible for it. Eating at late night or post-dinner snacks are the common reason for nightmares especially in adults.
Avoiding eating habits at least two hours before going to sleep is the best mechanism to prevent nightmares with the food items. Drug abuse is one of the most common causes of fearful and bizarre dreams and should be avoided. Withdrawal of the antidepressant medication should be gradual instead of a sudden stoppage to prevent the disorder.