Nightmare disorder, also referred to as dream anxiety disorder, causes the recurrence of dreams that may be terrifying in nature and lead the dreamer to awaken with intense feelings of fear. Nightmares usually occur during the second half of the night and can cause the patient to have difficulty returning to sleep. Longstanding feelings of panic and anxiety generated during sleep, coupled with a lack of sleep due to fear of the nightmares can lead to a significant impairment of normal and everyday routine.
Symptoms of Nightmare Disorder
Many people experience nightmares on a regular basis and some develop symptoms that may be characterized by nightmare disorder. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but a recurrence of this condition that interrupts normal functioning may require professional evaluation. Here are some of the symptoms to look for when considering the probability of nightmare disorder:
- Recurrence of frightening dreams that jolt the body awake with a sense of extreme fear, terror or panic
- Moaning, moving, talking or flailing to indicate a potentially disturbing dream
- Physical symptoms of anxiety and fear upon awakening, such as sweating or a rapid pulse
- Vivid recollection of the dream, possibly leading to trouble getting back to sleep
- Anxiety before sleep of the potential recurrence of nightmares
- Symptoms of sleep deprivation during the day, such as decrease in the ability to focus, drowsiness, irritability or depression
Causes of Nightmare Disorder
The exact cause of nightmare disorder is largely unknown and may vary based upon individual and circumstance. Some medications and other drugs are known to produce nightmares as a side effect. Withdrawal from alcohol or other drugs may lead to frightening dreams, and significant life stress or other mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder can trigger this disorder. Research also suggests that highly creative people, like artists or people who are extremely sensitive to societal and environmental factors are at a higher likelihood for developing nightmare disorder.
Diagnosis of Nightmare Disorder
Nightmare disorder can often be confused with sleep terror disorder, so a proper psychological evaluation may be helpful when symptoms arise. A physical examination may first be recommended to rule out any physical conditions or illnesses that may be contributing to symptoms. Once ruled out, a psychiatrist or psychologist will likely interview the patient and any relatives or family members who may witness the symptoms experienced by the patient. There are no tests that can help diagnose the disorder, but if symptoms qualify and are not induced by medications or illegal drugs and are not a symptom of another mental illness, nightmare disorder may be indicated.
Treatment Options for Nightmare Disorder
Treatment options for nightmare disorder are limited, but with focus and determination, some of these options may provide great benefit in alleviating the stress that may be causing the frightening dreams. Since most research points to stressful situations as the cause for recurring nightmares, relieving this stress will be a step in the right direction. There are many ways to relieve stress, and having your dreams evaluated to uncover a common theme may help to pinpoint which waking issues require resolution. Psychotherapy can help with post-traumatic stress disorder, as can support groups or family therapy. Alternative and self-help remedies, such as meditation, yoga or homeopathy may also provide lasting results. Learning relaxation techniques to practice throughout the day, when a stressful situation is encountered, and just before sleeping can deter nightmares, as well as producing a much more comfortable and fulfilling period of sleep. Children who are experiencing symptoms of this disorder are often left untreated, as nightmares tend to subside as the child ages.