What is Nightmare Disorder

A nightmare is a disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear that awakens you. While nightmares are common in children, they can happen at any age. For most of us, the occasional nightmare is nothing to worry about. However, if you have constant nightmares, that most likely means that you have nightmare disorder.

Nightmare Disorder

Although nightmares are common, nightmare disorder is relatively rare. Nightmare disorder is when nightmares happen often, cause distress, disrupt sleep, cause problems with daytime functioning or create fear of going to sleep.


You are more likely to have a nightmare in the second half of your night’s sleep. Nightmares may occur rarely or more frequently, even several times a night. Episodes are generally brief, but they cause you to awaken, and returning to sleep can be difficult.

Nightmare disorder often includes these elements:

  • Vivid dreams that are real and very upsetting
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Your dream awakens you
  • You feel scared, anxious and sad because of the dream
  • You wake up sweating
  • You have a pounding headache upon waking up
  • You have difficulty going back to sleep

Nightmare Disorder Can Cause Problems During the Day

Nightmare disorder can cause major distress and anxiety during the day. It can also cause problems with concentration and memory because you are so exhausted from the sleep disruptions. Most people with nightmare disorder also experience daytime sleepiness, problems functioning at work or school and behavioral problems that have to do with fear of the dark. Having a child with nightmare disorder can cause significant sleep disturbance and distress for parents or caregivers.

Nightmare Disorder Complications

Leaving nightmare disorder untreated can lead to a variety of lifelong problems. Some of these issues include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, which can lead to difficulties at school or work, or problems with everyday tasks, such as driving and concentrating
  • Problems with mood, such as depression or anxiety from dreams that continue to bother you
  • Resistance to going to bed or to sleep for fear you’ll have another bad dream
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts

It is vital to get treatment for nightmare disorder so it doesn’t have lasting effects on your overall health. The first step is to have a sleep study performed, which will tell a lot about your sleeping patterns and your nightmares. Moving forward, your doctor will know what’s right for you.

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