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How Common Is Nightmare Disorder Or Is It A Rare Disease?

Nightmare disorder is a sleep disorder which constitutes frequent nightmares. In his nightmares, the person often visualizes situations which put his life or safety in jeopardy. The nightmares usually take place in the REM stage of the sleep.

Almost all of us experience nightmares at least once in our lifetime. However, those who experience them quite frequently are said to be suffering from nightmare disorder. Nightmare disorders are a type of parasomnias. Parasomnia include all the unusual behaviors happening during sleep.(1)

How Common Is Nightmare Disorder Or Is It Rare?

How Common Is Nightmare Disorder Or Is It Rare?

Nightmares are commonly seen in young children of ages between 3 to 6 years. However, they can occur at any age. If you get occasional nightmares, it is usually not a cause for concern. That said, nightmares are quite common, but nightmare disorder is very rare. About only 4 percent of Americans suffer from nightmare disorder.(2)

Nightmares usually happen in the latter half of your night-time sleep. Nightmares may occur one time or several times during the night. The duration of the nightmares may be very small; however, they will awaken you and you may face trouble falling asleep later.

A nightmare may consist of-

  • Upsetting dreams that are vivid and real. They become more and more distressing as the dream opens out.
  • Usually, the story of the dream is related to safety or life threats. However, there may be other content at times.
  • You are roused by your dream.
  • Emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, disgust or unhappiness because of the dream may affect you
  • You experience elevated heartbeat or arrhythmia and abundant sweating as a result of your dream.
  • You are able to reminisce the details of your dream after you awaken, and you are able to think clearly
  • You may get distressed or depressed so much so that you find it difficult to return to sleep again later.(2)

Nightmares are termed as nightmare disorder only if-

  • You get them very recurrently
  • Your daytime activities get significantly affected
  • You do not want to go to bed every night, fearing the nightmare would happen again
  • There may be problems regarding focus, concentration, and memory
  • You may keep replaying the images you saw in your dream
  • You may feel extreme sleepiness and fatigue or tiredness during daytime
  • You may face problems in school or work due to sleep deprivation
  • You may dread going in the dark(2)

Causes Of Nightmare Disorder

Nightmare disorder is caused due to many reasons, like-

Stress, Anxiety, Depression-

  • The normal stresses of day to day life like a problem with school friends, family problems, etc. may also lead to nightmares sometimes.
  • Major changes like leaving a dear friend to move to another place or sudden death of a loved one may also trigger nightmares. (2)

Injury Or Trauma-

  • If you suffer from trauma like physical injury, physical or sexual abuse, an accident, etc. it may give you nightmares.
  • Nightmares are more commonly seen in people with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD(2)

Lack Of Sleep-

  • If you change your schedule and as a result, you are unable to get a restful and adequate sleep, you may get sleep deprived.
  • Sleep deprivation may put you at an increased risk of getting nightmares.(2)


Certain medicines like anti-hypertensives, beta-blockers, antidepressants, etc. may cause nightmares in some people(2)

Alcohol And Other Substance Abuse-

If you abuse alcohol or other illegal substances or due to withdrawal of these substances, you may start getting nightmares.(2)

Health Problems-

Other health problems like heart problems, cancer, etc. can disturb your sleep and cause nightmares.(2)

Reading Creepy Or Frightening Books-

Reading disturbing, scary books or watching such movies, especially before bedtime, may lead to nightmares.(2)


Nightmares are quite common; however, nightmare disorder is very rare.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 11, 2019

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