We all have had terrifying dreams at some point in our lives that made us shiver and sweat out of our sleep.  However, when the dreams become recurring and keep waking us from sleep, it becomes a thing to worry about and could be referred to as nightmare disorder.  The dream is not referred to as nightmare if it does not wake the person up from sleep.

There a number of sleeping disorders predominant in young and growing children and into their early adult age.  Some of them include sleep talking, sleep walking, night terrors and nightmares, but here we will be focusing mainly on Nightmare disorder.


What is Nightmare Disorder?

Nightmare disorder, also known as dream anxiety disorder or parasomnias, is a type of sleeping disorder that is characterized by frequent occurrence of bad dreams that makes the sleeper wake up and feel threatened and fearful.  The person involved always encounters events that threaten their life and safety and it often occurs at the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.

In most occasions, the nightmare makes the person wake up from sleep and might find it difficult sleeping again.  The dreamer often remembers vividly what the dream is all about.

Although a lot of people have nightmares from time to time, those with nightmare disorder experience nightmares more frequently and usually shout out during the dream.

A nightmare can be either mild, moderate or severe. The severity depends on how often the nightmare occurs.  Nightmare disorder is said to be mild if it occurs approximately once in a week, moderate if it occurs for about two to three times a week and severe if it starts occurring every night.  


Symptoms of Nightmare disorder

Some of the symptoms associated with nightmare disorder include:

  • Frequent awakening from deep sleep due to bad dreams
  • As the person wakes up, he or she becomes very much aware of what is happening in their surroundings and can remember vividly what happened in the dream.
  • The dreams result in distress and might affect the normal life of the person including their social life.
  • Difficulty getting back to sleep after having the bad dream for fear of having to go through another terrifying experience.


Causes of Nightmare disorder

The actual cause of nightmare disorder is yet to be established.

However, there are a number of factors that are likely to trigger a nightmare disorder. Some of them include:

Effect of certain medications:  Nightmares can be a side effect of certain medications used for the treatment of diseases like high blood pressure.  Certain antidepressants could also result in nightmare disorders.

Cocaine and discontinuing the intake of alcohol could also lead to a nightmare disorder

Sensitivity: People that are highly sensitive especially creative people are highly susceptible to having nightmare disorders.

Trauma: Exposure to psychological traumas and stress can also cause nightmare disorder.

Frequent viewing of scary books or movies: When you watch movies or read books that are frightening especially before going to bed, the chances of you having a nightmare are very high. Constant exposure of oneself to these types of movies or books can lead to a nightmare disorder.


Diagnosis of Nightmare disorder

There is no specific laboratory test for the diagnosis of Nightmare disorder. Since nightmare disorder is characterised by experiencing constant bad dreams while sleeping, the person with suspected nightmare disorder must meet these criteria before being confirmed as having a nightmare disorder.

Also in the diagnosis of nightmare disorder, the psychiatrist will examine the person to ascertain if the person is always conscious of their surroundings after waking up and that the nightmare happens frequently.  Also it must be determined that the nightmare is not a result of medication or alcohol and that it affects the person negatively in his or her normal everyday life, before confirming that the person has the disorder.


Effects of nightmare disorder

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to sleep


Natural Supplements for Nightmare Disorder

Nightmare disorder can be helped significantly by the use of natural supplements some of the more common ones are as follows:

Omega-3: DHA and EPA found in omega-3 is crucial for the proper functioning of the brain.  Therefore, it is an important element in keeping the mind calm and treating any anxiety.

GABA: GABA is a naturally occurring, calming neurotransmitter in the brain that can become deficient.  Taking a GABA supplement can help reduce a deficiency and keep your mind calm.

L-Theanine: This amino acid activates the neurotransmitter GABA and helps to calm the mind.

Lavender: The essential oil lavender is very calming and relaxing for the body.  Putting some on a tissue next to your bed or in a diffuser in your bedroom can help you have a quiet restful sleep.  You could also try having a cup of lavender flower tea before bed to relax you.

Bach Flower Remedies: A custom Bach Flower remedy can help correct any emotional issues that are going on and can help relieve the nightmares.


Lifestyle Changes

Nightmare disorder can be disheartening. The good news is that with proper control measures and supplementation, there is a way out.

The best way of controlling nightmare disorder is by getting to know the cause and look for ways to prevent it.

Also since stress is one of the possible causes of nightmare disorder, counselling can be used to determine the cause of the stress and look for ways to reduce it.

Regular exercise, healthy balanced diet and practicing some relaxation techniques can help reduce nightmare disorder.

Having a warm bath before sleeping and sleeping with the door open are other natural ways of reducing nightmare disorder. Leaving the door open reduces fear and loneliness which are often associated with nightmare disorder.

Sleeping with something that provides comfort such as a pet, stuffed animal or totem can also be beneficial.  And try using a nightlight so when woken by a nightmare the surrounding area is visible and not so scary.  

Visualization is a technique that can be very useful in stopping nightmares.  Try rewriting the ending of your nightmare.  Sit quietly and visualize the nightmare in detail but instead of the bad ending that wakes you up, imagine a happy ending.  Imagine conquering your fear or out running whatever is after you, make the dream end in your favour.

A sound sleep is essential for health but constant bad dreams can ruin that sleep and lead to other issues.  By taking some natural supplements and implementing some lifestyle changes you can take back control of your sleep and rest easy!

Nightmare Disorder

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