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Nightmares are scary dreams. They often awaken children and can make them afraid to go back to sleep. There is no way to know when a nightmare may occur; although episodes of nightmares sometimes occur after a child sees or hears something upsetting. It may be something real or imaginary. What causes a nightmare may relate to a child’s age. A toddler may dream about getting lost or separated from his or her parents. A preschooler may dream about monsters lurking in the dark. A school-aged child may dream about real dangers or death.
Nightmares are generally harmless. They occur frequently in children but can also be a problem for adults. It is common to experience nightmares once in a while. A person may have a nightmare disorder if he repeatedly experiences nightmares. This can result in sleep deprivation. A child may be afraid to go back to sleep after an episode. Someone who experienced nightmares the night before may be afraid to go to sleep the following night. This can result in difficulty in sleeping.
Around 4% of adults suffer from a nightmare disorder. This disorder can occur by itself. It can also occur with another disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If an adult has an underlying mental illness, like depression, nightmare disorder can worsen it.
What causes nightmare disorder?
Several factors can trigger nightmares. These include:
- Stress or anxiety. Daily stresses can cause nightmares. Problems at home, work, or school can trigger nightmares. Anxiety can also trigger nightmares.
- Trauma. It is normal to experience nightmares after an accident, sexual abuse, or other traumatic events. Nightmares are common in people who recently suffered from injuries.
- Sleep deprivation. Having inadequate sleep can increase a person’s risk of experiencing nightmares. Those who suffer from insomnia have higher risks of experiencing nightmares.
- Substance abuse. Abusing alcohol or recreational drugs lead to a higher risk of nightmares. Withdrawal from these substances can also trigger nightmares.
- Medications. Certain drugs can trigger nightmares. Antidepressants, beta blockers, and blood pressure medications can lead to nightmares.
- Scary movies, videos, or books. It is common for children to experience nightmares after watching a scary video. Some adults also experience nightmares after reading a scary book or watching a scary video. The risk is higher if this happens right before going to bed.
How is nightmare disorder treated?
Treating nightmares may be necessary if they result in sleep disturbance or reduced daytime functionality. Medical treatment can help if the nightmares stem from another medical condition. This means that the treatment should focus on the medical condition that’s causing the nightmare.
If a mental health condition may be triggering the nightmares, a stress or anxiety treatment may help relieve nightmares. Counseling or therapy can also help prevent nightmare episodes.