nightmares, negative and scary dreams: What's it, causes, symptoms, diagnostics, treatment, prevention


What are nightmares?

nightmares – these are intense and vivid dreams, that evoke strong negative emotions in a person, such as fear, anxiety and anxiety. They often occur in the second half of the night, during REM dreaming, when the brain is active. Nightmares can be temporary and random, but in some cases they can become chronic and affect the quality of sleep and the overall psychological state of a person.

Nightmares can be visual, sound or multi-touch. Emotions, caused by nightmares, may remain active for some time after waking up, leaving the person in a state of anxiety. Often dreams, who were nightmares, can be remembered more vividly, than ordinary dreams.

Nightmares usually start before 10 years and is most often considered a normal part of childhood. They, usually, more common in girls, than boys. Nightmares can be caused, seemingly, routine events, like starting a new school, trip or mild illness of one of the parents.

Nightmares can continue into adulthood. They may be one way, how our brain copes with the stresses and fears of everyday life.

Causes of nightmares

Nightmares can have many causes, and they may be associated with psychological, emotional and physiological factors:

  • stress and anxiety: One of the most common causes of nightmares is the presence of stress in a person's life.. emotional experiences, stress at work, personal problems and anxiety can trigger nightmares in your sleep.
  • Psychological conditions: People, suffering from psychological disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, more prone to nightmares. Traumatic events, past in life, can manifest in dreams and cause night terrors.
  • Physiological factors: Certain physiological states, such as fever, disease, sleep disturbances or changes in the body's circadian rhythm, can cause nightmares.
  • Impact of external factors: Effects on the body of alcohol, drugs or certain medications can interfere with dreams and cause nightmares.

However, it is important to understand, that the causes of nightmares can be individual for each person. Besides, nightmares may be due to a combination of several factors.

Symptoms of nightmares

Symptoms of nightmares can vary depending on the individual., but usually include:

  • intense dreams: Nightmares are characterized by the vividness and intensity of dreams.. They can be remembered for a long time after waking up..
  • Powerful emotions: During nightmares, strong negative emotions can occur., such as fear, alarm, horror or anxiety. Emotions feel so real, what leaves an impact after waking up.
  • Awakening: Often nightmares cause an abrupt awakening in the second half of the night.. The person may feel sweat and a rapid pulse..
  • Difficulties in dreaming: Man, survivor of a nightmare, may have difficulty falling asleep after waking up and trying to remember the details of the dream.
  • Influence on mood: Nightmares can leave a negative impact on your emotional state throughout the day., causing anxiety and discomfort.

When to see a doctor

If nightmares begin to have a negative impact on your life and psychological state, it is important to see a doctor for further evaluation and advice. Consult with a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist, to determine the causes and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Questions, which the doctor may ask

The doctor may ask the following questions, to better understand the nature of your nightmares:

  • How often do you have nightmares?
  • Are there any events or stressors, which could be associated with the appearance of nightmares?
  • What emotions do you feel during nightmares?
  • Do you have a history of psychological disorders?
  • Are you taking any medications or substances, that could affect dreams?

Nightmare Diagnostics

Diagnosis of nightmares includes analysis of symptoms, medical history and psychological state of the patient. Your doctor may also do an overnight sleep study., to identify factors, affecting dreams and sleep.

Treatment for nightmares

Treating nightmares may involve several approaches., depending on the cause and nature of the symptoms:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapeutic methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (KPT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (TDP), can help you deal with the roots of fears and anxiety, causing nightmares.
  • Medication: In some cases, the doctor may prescribe antidepressants or anxiolytics., to reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares.
  • Stress Management Techniques: Relaxation methods, such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation, May help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Treating nightmares at home

In addition to professional help, there are a number of methods, which you can try at home to control nightmares:

  • Creating a calm environment: Provide a cozy and comfortable atmosphere in the bedroom, use relaxing scents and sounds to help you unwind before bed.
  • Relaxation practice: Regular relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, may help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Sleep mode setting: Maintain a stable time for falling asleep and waking up, so that the mind and body get used to a certain rhythm.

Prevention of nightmares

Use the following methods to prevent nightmares:

  • Stress Management: Develop healthy stress management strategies, such as physical activity, meditation and deep breathing.
  • Sleep compliance: Maintain a stable sleep pattern, avoid overexertion and lack of sleep.
  • Avoiding strong stimulants: Limit your alcohol intake, caffeine and nicotine before bed, as they can affect the quality of sleep and dreams.
  • Creating a Relaxing Routine: Spend quiet time before bed, read, listen to pleasant music or do relaxation exercises.

And finally, Remember, that every person is unique, and then, what suits one, may not suit others. If nightmares begin to have a negative impact on your life, do not hesitate to seek the help of a specialist for individual advice and development of a management plan.

Used sources and literature

Arnulf I. Nightmares and dream disturbances. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Goldstein CA, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 119.

Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 101.

Pigeon WR, Carr M. Dreams and nightmares in posttraumatic stress disorder. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Goldstein CA, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 61.

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