What are the causes and treatment of nightmares?

Expert Answers
akasha124 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Adult nightmares are less common than nightmares in children, but they still happen.

Adult nightmares can happen spontaneously, but there are other possible causes of adult nightmares including: medication (ranging from antidepressants to blood pressure medication), withdrawal from medication and narcotics, including alcohol, sleep deprivation, anxiety disorder, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome).

If after consulting with your doctor to ascertain if any of the possible causes are causing the nightmares and your doctor finds that none of the above are applicable to you, you may have a nightmare disorder (which would need to be diagnosed by a doctor).  Nightmare disorders tend to run in families.

Possible treatments include:

* If you are taking medication that could be causing your nightmares, talk with your doctor about changing the dose or changing the medication.

* Behavioral changes under the supervision of a doctor or therapist can be helpful.

* If you suffer from PTSD, Imagery Rehearsal treatment has been shown to be helpful.  Imagery Rehearsal is when a PTSD patient practices how s/he would like the nightmare to go while away to help get better outcomes when sleeping.

* Good sleep habits help prevent sleep deprivation which can cause nightmares.  Getting enough sleep, sticking to a sleep schedule, getting enough exercise, reducing caffeine intake all help to get a better night's sleep.

giorgiana1976 | Student

Nightmare is a dream that occurs during REM sleep (period of sleep during that occurs  rapid eye movement), which causes intense feelings of not exceeding fear, of terror, distress or extreme anxiety that usually wakes the one who dreams.

Nightmares, unlike night terrors, could be remembered and are accompanied by much less anxiety and movement. These terrible experiences, which tend to emerge in times of uncertainty, emotional disorders, depression or feelings of guilt, can occur at any age.

Nightmares occur only during REM sleep. REM sleep stages last longer in the end of the cycles of sleep and most nightmares occur from the middle of the night to morning.


Particularly among adults, drugs as levodopa, reserpine, beta blockers and antidepressants, as well as the dropping of psychoactive substances can cause nightmares. Alcoholism is also associated in a very great extent with nightmares.Other drugs considered to be determining in causing nightmares could be:

- Medicines for heart diseases

- Antibiotics

- Antihistamines

- Suppressor of appetite, as fenfluramine

- Antidepressants

- Medicines used to treat Parkinson's disease

- Anti ulcer, as Cimetidine

However, many medications can not be stopped abruptly, without major side effects. Medical consultation is required before any changes in their management.

Both at the adults and children, nightmares and night terrors can be caused by unresolved psychological conflicts or traumatic events. They are fairly frequent features of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Emotional traumas that disturb the sleep of children can be neglected in regard to adults, such as loss of favorite toys or hearing of arguments between parents.Although nightmares and night terrors are considered normal in children's development, disappearing during adolescence, frequent episodes at any age require a psychiatric evaluation. Intervention techniques in crisis  may be useful in resolving trauma.


Some people suffer from  important psychological problems which cause nightmares. Psychotherapy is important to emphasize the major stress from person's  life , traumatic events from the past or depression that can cause nightmares.When given a medication, it is important that the doctor inform the patient if prescribed medications can cause nightmares.Chronic nightmares were also treated by the method of desensitisation, which makes use of a nightmare remembering and imagining a different end.