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Why do some people get frequent nightmares?

More often nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep associated with intense dreaming.

Occasional nightmares are normal and they are not a cause for concern but talk to your doctor if nightmares happen more than once a week.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Published : November 15, 2020 7:05 PM IST

We all have nightmares or bad dreams from time to time, but for some people, they recur frequently and interfere with their sleep, mood, and/or daytime functioning. This condition is called nightmare disorder. Keep reading to know more about this condition and when you should talk to your doctor.

Nightmares are vivid dreams that bring out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or anxiety, causing the sleeper to wake up. More often nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep associated with intense dreaming. This is the reason why you experience nightmares more frequently in the second half of the night.

Frequent nightmares are more common in children between the ages of three and six. The frequency reduces as they get older, but in some cases, nightmares may persist into adolescence and adulthood, more commonly in women.

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Why Do We Have Nightmares?

Little is known about why we dream or why our dreams sometimes turn out to be nightmares. One popular theory suggests that dreaming is a way of processing emotion and consolidating memory. This indicate that bad dreams may be the emotional response to fear and trauma.

While there's no direct proof or consensus explanation for why we have nightmares, but experts say daytime activities ,traumatic events, certain medical conditions and medications may contribute to nightmares. Below are some factors that may cause nightmares:

Stress and anxiety: People with chronic stress and anxiety are said to be more likely to develop nightmare disorder.

Mental health conditions: Mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are also associated with a higher incidence of nightmares.

Medications: Using certain types of medications, particularly those that affect the nervous system are associated with a higher risk of nightmares. If nightmares start after taking antidepressants, talk to your physician.

Sleep deprivation: Insomnia also increases the chances of frequent nightmares, according to a Finnish study. A person often experiences a REM rebound accompanied by nightmares after a period of insufficient sleep.

Eating Before Bed: Snacking too close to bed can cause indigestion, and it may also influence your metabolism and dreams. One study linked junk food with nightmares.

Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other sleep disorders are also linked to nightmares. Some studies have also found an association between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a breathing disorder that causes fragmented sleep, and nightmares.

When nightmares are a cause for concern?

Recurrent nightmares can have a significant impact on sleep quality, which in turn can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, mood changes and worsened cognitive function. This can negatively affect the person's daytime activities and quality of life. Insufficient sleep can also worsen symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety. Occasional nightmares are normal are they are not a cause for concern but talk to your doctor if nightmares happen more than once a week, affecting your sleep, mood, and/or daily activity. They can help identify the underlying cause and prescribe the right treatments and medications, if needed.

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