General Practice 2022

Nightmares: why we have it, what it means and how to avoid it

Table of contents:

Nightmares: why we have it, what it means and how to avoid it
Nightmares: why we have it, what it means and how to avoid it

Nightmare is a disturbing dream, which is usually associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear, that make the person wake up in the middle of the night. Nightmares are more common in children and adolescents, however they can occur at any age.

Having nightmares from time to time is normal and may be associated with stress or anxiety, some trauma, poor sleep hygiene or medication, however, if they become too frequent to the point of distress, poor sleep quality, fear of going to sleep or even problems throughout the day, can be considered a disorder and in these cases, medical follow-up may be necessary.

Because we have nightmares

Nightmares occur during a phase of sleep called the REM phase, but their exact cause is still unknown. Learn more about sleep phases.

However, it has been observed that nightmares tend to be triggered by factors such as:

  • Stress and anxiety, such as everyday problems, receiving bad news or losing a loved one;
  • Injuries, such as those resulting from a serious accident, physical or sexual abuse or other traumatic event;
  • Sleep deprivation, which can occur in people who work shifts, who travel to different time zones, who sleep few hours, or who suffer from insomnia;
  • Medicines, such as antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, or drugs to treat Parkinson's or to stop smoking;
  • Abuse of alcohol, drugs or even weaning from these substances;
  • Watching movies or reading scary books, especially before going to sleep.

Nightmares can also be caused by psychological disorders, such as depression, other mental problems or post-traumatic stress, which can be caused by some of the factors mentioned above, even though they may have happened in the past. Find out which symptoms may be associated with this psychological disorder.

Symptoms that occur during a nightmare

Usually, nightmares are short-lived, but after waking up, the person may have some difficulty getting back to sleep. Some symptoms that can occur during a nightmare are that the dream seems very real and disturbing, making the person feel threatened and when waking up they feel scared, anxious, angry, sad or sick, depending on the type of nightmare that occurred.

In addition, the person may sweat heavily and have a very fast heart rate, which makes it difficult for them to go back to sleep peacefully.

How to stop having nightmares

There are ways to reduce the frequency with which nightmares occur, such as setting fixed times for going to sleep and waking up. For those who have trouble falling asleep, you can read a book or take a relaxing bath before going to bed. See other tips that can help you sleep better.

If what is causing the nightmare is stress and anxiety, the ideal is to seek a doctor who will help the person solve the problem or practice relaxation exercises. See 8 ways to calm the mind.

Nightmares in children

In the case of children, you can ask them to draw about the nightmare or talk about the characters of the same nightmare and try to explain that none of this is real or even build a happy ending for this story.

Also, the child may feel safer if they sleep with an object they like like a teddy bear or a handkerchief they like, with the door to their room and the parents' room open.You can also put a night light in the room so that the children don't get scared when the room is too dark.

Popular topic