Nightmares are “lengthy, elaborate dreams with imagery that evokes fear, anxiety, or sadness. The dreamer may wake up to avoid the perceived danger. Nightmares can be remembered upon awakening and may lead to difficulties returning to sleep or even cause daytime distress” (Psychology Today). Having a nightmare once in a while is normal but if you are having recurring nightmares that are bringing on anxiety or other symptoms, it can be part of a larger sleep disorder.
They occur during REM sleep and usually happen towards the end of the night and can be a reaction to stress or even a way to work something traumatic out. The issue arises when it impacts your waking life from your all over health to how you function every day. The tendency for nightmares is seen more often in girls than boys beginning in childhood and if they continue into adulthood, can be due to outside factors (or mental disorder).
Children and adolescents tend to experience nightmares more commonly and it becomes infrequent into adulthood. However, about 50% of adults experience nightmares where women have them more often than men. Roughly 1% of adults who have frequent nightmares need professional help as it can lead to avoiding sleep and negative impacts to their everyday life.
Reoccurring nightmares, which do become a disorder, may be referred to as Nightmare Disorder and there are some criteria for a diagnosis. (Once again I implore you to see a doctor if you believe you have a sleep disorder of any kind and do not go all WebMD on yourself).
- You are oriented and alert the instant you wake up
- Waking up often with detailed recollection of your nightmare occurring in the latter part of sleep and are usually about security or threats to survival
- Adverse effects to work, social interaction, and overall well being
- No known medical condition or use of medications or substances that would cause symptoms
While M. Night Shyamalan might help to create some nightmares, there are other causes. 60% of cases are due to anxiety or stress but they can also occur due to sleep apnea, side effect or withdrawal of drug, excessive alcohol intake or withdrawal, eating right before bed, sleep disorders, and many more.
They can induce a lot of anxiety within a person but there are ways to help treat it. Support from friends and families will help reduce stress and if you have been a part (in any way) of a type of trauma, a mental health professional can help you navigate some issues. Your physical health also has a lot to do with how you sleep so be consistent with what you do as it relates to food, exercise, and sleep habits. If you started a new medication and your nightmares began shortly thereafter, contact your doctor to see if that could be the culprit and what you can do.
Nightmares can be terrifying but understanding what they are, what causes them, and some ways to treat them can go a long way in getting a more restful sleep.