What do we Mean by Bad Dreams or Nightmares?

Bad Dreams or Nightmares are something which happens to everyone once in while whether it is a child or an adult. After watching a horror movie or having witnessed an accident on the way home from work may cause you to have bad dreams or nightmares of that incident or certain parts of the movie which made you feel scared may be replayed in your sleep. This is quite common for everyone but the problem starts when these Bad Dreams or Nightmares start to occur on a frequent basis so much so that it starts disturbing your sleep then that is a cause for concern.

Bad Dreams or Nightmares may wake you up from a deep sleep with your heart racing and mouth dry as if you have been through a really terrifying state of mind. Most of the dreams occur during the REM sleep. Bad Dreams or Nightmares occur more in children but it also can occur in adults too. Frequent Bad Dreams and Nightmares may cause severe sleep distruption along with fear of the Bad Dreams or Nightmares recuring and severe anxiety.

What constitutes a Bad Dream or Nightmare is variable and different from person or person. Some people may dream of their office presentation going wrong and losing their job while some people may see themselves being trapped somewhere with nowhere to escape. Some people may also experience falling from a hill or mountain. People who have witnessed an attacks or any other traumatic incident like a horrible accident can have Bad Dreams or Nightmares of that accident again and again causing incredible stress. This condition is termed as posttraumatic stress disorder. PTSD is seen in many people who are from the military and have just returned home. A lot of veterans from the Vietnam war still experience Bad Dreams and Nightmares of their horrible experience during that war.

What do we Mean by Bad Dreams or Nightmares?

Are Bad Dreams or Nightmares and Night Terror Same?

The answer is no. Even though Night Terrors and Nightmares both wake an individual from sleep terrified and scared but they are totally different situations. Night Terrors usually occur during the first few hours after sleeping and they are more of a feeling rather than images and hence when the individual wakes up he or she does not know as to why they are feeling scared whereas Bad Dreams or Nightmares tend to occur in the early morning hours and during this the individual actually sees images of himself or herself being in danger and unable to escape from that situation and then suddenly waking up.

What Causes Bad Dreams or Nightmares?

There is no specific cause as to why Bad Dreams or Nightmares occur but some cases have been linked to certain medications and medical conditions as the one stated above like posttraumatic stress disorder. Some of the causes of Bad Dreams or Nightmares are:

Late Night Snack Can Cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares: Having a Late Night Snack: If an individual has a habit of eating a late night snack then it may be a reason for Bad Dreams or Nightmares as having a late night snack tends to increase the metabolism and makes the brain more active resulting in Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

Bad Dreams or Nightmares Caused Due to Medications: As stated, there are a wide variety of medications which can lead to Bad Dreams or Nightmares, especially those medications that affect the chemical composition of the brain like narcotics or antidepressants which tend to cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares. Some other classes of medications which can cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares are certain classes of blood pressure medications.

Bad Dreams or Nightmares Caused Due to Medication Withdrawal: If you have been on high dose of anxiolytic or an antidepressant for a very long time and stop the medication without proper weaning process then it may lead to Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse Can Cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares: Alcohol and recreational drug abuse has also been shown to be a causative factor in triggering Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

Bad Dreams or Nightmares Caused Due to Sleep Deprivation: Sleep deprivation is also shown to cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares. Sleep deprivation can be caused due to may reasons like excessive stress, overwork, excessive fatigue or some other underlying medical condition. Bad Dreams or Nightmares increases sleep depravation even more.

Psychological Conditions Can Cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares: Certain psychological condition like stress, anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder tend to aggravate Bad Dreams or Nightmares with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder being the most common.

Bad Dreams or Nightmares Caused Due to Medical Conditions: There are also certain medical conditions that can cause Bad Dreams or Nightmares. These conditions are sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, or any form of sleep disorder.

How to Get Rid of Bad Dreams or Nightmares?

If your Bad Dreams and Nightmares are unending and causing you much distress to such an extent that you are not able to function well at work or at home and it is also affecting your social life then it calls for a consultation with a skilled psychologist or psychiatrist who will formulate a treatment plan to get rid of Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

To begin with, the cause of your Bad Dreams or Nightmares need to be identified. For this, the psychologist or the psychiatrist will take your detailed history including whether there is a history of some past traumatic event even though it may be as a child, if the individual has been in the military service in active war zone. The psychologist or psychiatrist will also ask what medications the patient has been on and for how long the individual has been taking the medication.

If the bad Dreams or Nightmares are being caused by a medication then the dosage or in some cases the medication itself is changed to address the issue.

In case if medical condition like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome are causing the Bad Dreams or Nightmares then addressing these conditions first may go a long way in getting rid of Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

For war veterans or people with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a good psychological session for a few weeks may be quite effective in lessening if not eliminating the episodes of Bad Dreams or Nightmares. A common method employed by psychologist for treatment for such patients is known as Cognitive behavioral Therapy. In this therapy, the patient is asked to speak about what he or she sees in the nightmare and how he or she would like it to end. It is noted here that efforts are made to make the patient have a positive attitude and thus give it a good end.

Cognitive behavioral therapy along with use of certain medicaitons goes a long way in getting rid of Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

Apart from these above ways to get rid of Bad Dreams or Nightmares, the psychologist or psychiatrist may also give you a sleep-wake schedule which you may need to follow where you will sleep at a particular time and get up at a particular time, avoiding late night snacks or having caffienated products in the evening hours, having a positive frame of mind before going to sleep in an effort to reduce the episodes of Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

The physician may also recommend a good mind exercise program for you like solving puzzles to keep your mind away from incidents which tend to haunt you time and again so that you can get a rested good night’s sleep.

A medication called as prazosin has shown to be effective in decreasing Bad Dreams or Nightmares especially in people suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Patient will also be recommended to stay away from potential triggers of bad dreams or nightmares like watching a war movie or a horror show on television to reduce the chances of having a Bad Dream or a Nightmare.

To summarize, Bad Dreams or Nightmares are not something which cannot be cured or treated. With proper sleep wake cycle and modifying activities and with a little bit of exercise and having good thoughts you can get rid of the problem of Bad Dreams or Nightmares.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: July 28, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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