Up to 85% of American adults have occasional nightmares, and they are nothing to worry about. When you have frequent nightmares that interfere with your well-being, however, you may be facing nightmare disorder.
This condition affects an estimated 8% of adults. Fortunately, it can be treated.
What is nightmare disorder?
Someone who has nightmares once a week to every night over a period of weeks or months may have nightmare disorder. Having nightmares every night or almost every night for six months or more would be considered a persistent, severe case of this disorder.
People with nightmare disorder can usually remember their nightmares. They do not usually sleepwalk or otherwise move around during their nightmares. These facts can help distinguish between nightmare disorder and night terrors, a condition more common in children than in adults.
Nightmares in general are more common in children than in adults. Nightmares can cause rapid heart rate, sweating, and other physical signs of fear. They can wake you up and make it hard to go back to sleep, making it hard to get enough sleep for good health.
People with nightmare disorder might have trouble falling asleep at night because they are afraid of having a nightmare. This also can lead to insufficient sleep. Over time, it can also lead to anxiety, depression, and chronic sleep disturbance.
Many studies have associated nightmare disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, there are other factors that can increase your risk for this condition:
- poor sleep habits
- sleep apnea
- restless leg syndrome
- alcohol use
- certain medications, including SSRIs
- excessive worrying
Regular exercise reduces the chances of developing this disorder.
Many people who experience nightmare disorder don’t seek medical help. More women than men report these symptoms to their doctors, but many experts believe that this is because women feel freer to talk about their dreams, while men may be embarrassed to bring the subject up.
Others may feel that nightmares are not a medical problem, and don’t realize that their problem can be treated.
Both therapy and medication can be used to treat nightmare disorder.
Discuss your symptoms with your doctor if you are concerned about nightmare disorder. You may need to talk with a sleep medicine specialist.