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Nightmares are dreams that invoke feelings of terror, fear, anxiety and distress. Most people are familiar with nightmares and have them on occasion, but some people will have them more often or recurring nightmares of the same scenes over and over again. Nightmares happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and can come from a variety of factors. Stress and anxiety while being awake often lead to nightmares. Nightmares occur more frequently with children under 10 and gradually decrease as they mature, though adults get them too. As adults, they are common in females. The primary complication of nightmares is that they cause disturbances in sleep, which can lead to other health problems.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Nightmares

Most nightmares arent caused by a medical reason, but occur randomly. However, there are also factors that can trigger nightmares in children and adults. This could be from a snack eaten late at night that causes the brain to be more active, a traumatic event, taking narcotics or antidepressants, having a high amount of stress, not getting enough sleep because of restless leg syndrome or insomnia, obesity, depression, heart disease, being ill with a high fever, watching scary movies or using substances like drugs or alcohol. Complications of nightmares are losing sleep and the fact that they could signal another medical disorder such as sleep apnea, sleep terror disorder, anxiety or depression.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests of Nightmares

There are more physical and emotional symptoms of nightmares than you might have realized. Aside from remembering the nightmare after waking, you might experience waking up suddenly, feeling angry, sad or scared when you wake up, recalling vivid details of your dream, having this dream near the end of your REM sleep and not being able to fall back asleep. Nightmares arent serous, but you should consult your doctor if they are interrupting your sleep often, you have a fear of sleep and they are occurring more frequently over time. Sleep studies may be done to diagnose the underlying cause of the nightmares. This sleep study is called a polysomnogram and will look at your sleep patterns including brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, eye and leg movements, muscle tension and the level of your blood oxygen. These tests will try to diagnose you with a sleep disorder and find reasons why you might be experiencing the recurring nightmares. If you are having nightmares often, ask your doctor to perform a physical exam and possibly a sleep study.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Nightmares

It is possible to treat your nightmares and either get rid of them altogether or at least lessen their frequency. Nightmares often take a toll on your life when youre afraid to sleep or getting interrupted from your sleep often, so treatment is important even though it isnt a serious medical condition. The first course of action is usually to take a look at the medications youre currently taken. You might need to change medications or lower your dosage if you doctor thinks they are one of the causes of the nightmares. If the nightmares are caused by a medical condition such as restless leg syndrome, migraines or sleep apnea; those conditions are treated to get rid of these side effects. Nightmares caused by lifestyle factors such as stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, will need these illnesses or disorders treated in order to treat the nightmares. Caffeine can influence the onset of nightmares for an individual. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga to help prevent nightmares.