Understanding Nightmare Disorder – Risk Factors and Treatment

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We spend one-third of our lives sleeping, and a quarter of that time is spent dreaming.

A nightmare is a very scary dream that wakes you up because of its association with unpleasant emotions like worry or panic. Though more common in kids, nightmares can strike anyone at any time. In most cases, nightmares that occur sometimes are harmless.

A child's risk of developing nightmares increases between the ages of 3 and 6, and then declines beyond the age of 10. As a general rule, teenage and young adult females are more susceptible to night terrors than their male counterparts. It's true that some people experience them in adulthood, and even continue to do so throughout their entire lives.

Nightmares are common, but nightmare disorder is uncommon. Nightmare disorder is characterized by recurring nightmares that are accompanied by significant emotional discomfort, sleep disruption, impact on daytime functioning, or avoidance of bedtime.

Despite the obvious importance of dreaming in our lives, relatively little is understood about the processes by which the brain generates dreams and, more crucially, the potential impact of dreams on our physical and mental well-being.

What Is Nightmare Disorder?

Most people experience nightmares sometimes, but a nightmare disorder is diagnosed when the dreams become so frequent that they disrupt the sufferer's sleep, emotions, or ability to function normally throughout the day. In medical terms, this is parasomnia or an abnormal sleep pattern. One or more of the many aberrant sleep habits is known as parasomnias.

People who just have nightmares occasionally do not suffer from a nightmare disorder. Instead, those who suffer from nightmare disorder experience recurrent dreams that disrupt their daily lives significantly.

What are nightmare risk factors?

Anyone can have a nightmare at any time, yet the causes of most dreams remain mysterious. Nightmares are more likely when you're under a lot of stress, or anxiety, your sleep schedule is off, or when you're overly exhausted.

Nightmares are common, and some medications, such as antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure and Parkinson's disease, may make them more often. Factors like: stress, anxiety, and depression have all been linked to sleepless nightmares. Others may include:

  • Sleep disorder
  • A health issue
  • Use of Medications
  • Mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse 

It's not uncommon for people who have experienced significant stress or trauma to relive the same nightmare over and over again. Nightmares like these can be a means of "reliving" the terrible incident. It would be better to consult with the top psychiatrist for mental health issues.

Individuals in their middle years who report having at least one nightmare every week are four times more likely to develop cognitive deterioration in the subsequent decade. Nightmares are associated with an increased risk of dementia in the elderly, and those who experience them on a weekly basis are at a higher risk. Men have a far greater link than women do.

The findings, published in The Lancet in 2022, revealed that people who are later diagnosed with dementia show indicators of cognitive impairment, such as disturbing dreams, years before they are really diagnosed.

Researchers showed that middle-aged volunteers who had nightmares at least once a week were four times more probable cognitive deterioration over the following decade compared to those who did not have nightmares. Participants who reported having disturbing nightmares once a week were twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia among those aged 79 and up.

How are nightmares and parasomnias similar?

Nightmares can be confused with other parasomnias, which represent a broader category of sleep disorders. These may include:

  • Night terrors

These incidents can lead you to jolt up from slow-wave or deep sleep with a racing heart and a sense of disorientation. If you're experiencing night terrors, you could scream, kick, thrash, or even jump out of bed. Even if you had a scary dream, you probably won't be able to remember much of it. Night terrors are most common during the night's first third.

  • REM sleep behavior disorder

An extremely risky sleep disorder in which the sufferer acts out their dreams in their sleep. Oftentimes, the dreams will be quite active, and in some cases, even violent. This is why REM sleep behavior disorder is so serious; it can lead to physical harm, both to the sufferer and their bedmate. Men in their mid-30s and older are disproportionately affected by this condition.

Help for Nightmares: A Treatment Guide

Nightmares are a common problem, yet adults rarely seek medical help for them. However, Dr. Szumstein recommends cognitive behavioral therapy as the first line of defense if they persist.

According to some of the best doctors, it entails making a lot of behavior problems and incorporating relaxation techniques. Some people try to avoid exposing the dream with visuals so it's not quite as scary.

Taking an antidepressant that inhibits REM sleep is sometimes necessary for PTSD patients. However, this is only true if dreams are severely disrupting sleep on a regular basis.

Self-help techniques to prevent nightmares

Sleep hygiene encompasses a wide range of practices, but the following are particularly relevant when considering the prevention of nightmares:

  • Regularly sticking to a timetable for going to bed and waking up
  • Incorporating Stress-Relieving Techniques
  • Avoiding drinking any drinks with caffeine or alcohol
  • Using less screen time before bed
  • Facilitating a restful night's sleep


Both sexes are susceptible to nightmares, while women are more likely to report experiencing them, particularly from adolescence to midlife.

The first thing to do if dreams are preventing you from sleeping or functioning normally is to consult with the best psychiatrist in Lahore. The frequency and severity of nightmares can be reduced by determining the underlying reason and treating it.


1. Does everybody get nightmares?

This occurs naturally. Actually, between 80% and 90% of individuals may have had at least one nightmare. Nightmares are recurring or ominous nightmares that are so terrifying they force the dreamer to wake up.

2. Is it possible that anxiety contributes to the prevalence of nightmares?

Anxiety and stress Nightmares can be triggered by emotionally draining and anxious experiences including loss, trauma, and worry. Some research suggests that those who suffer from persistent stress and anxiety are more prone to developing nightmare problems.

3. What can the consequences of having nightmares be?

The following are some of the effects that recurring nightmares may have: Having trouble staying awake during the day, which might affect your performance in school or job, or in other areas of your life as well, such as driving and paying attention. Mood issues like despair or anxiety are caused by disturbing nightmares.

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