Nightmare disorder: what is it and how to overcome it

Nightmare disorder: what is it and how to overcome it

Maintaining adequate sleep hygiene with consistent routines and relaxation exercises can help improve nightmarish disorders. Learn more tips for overcoming them.

Nightmare disorder: what is it and how to overcome it

Last update: 23 October 2022

We may all have a nightmare at some point in life: being attacked by an animal, being in a disaster, suddenly losing our teeth. When it comes to a common occurrence that recurs several times a week and changes our daily lives, we’re talking about nightmare disorder.

It is very common to find these dreams that we remember with discomfort. Until then, it’s nothing to worry about if it happens once in a while. However, its repetition deserves our attention.

What is nightmare disorder?

Not every nightmare is a disorder, but a disorder turns into a nightmare. It seems like a pun, but it’s important to understand the difference.

Nightmares are experienced as dreams that trigger unpleasant emotions (fear, anxiety, sadness, suffering). They look very real and lively; therefore, when we wake up, we have clear memories of the discomfort and may have trouble falling asleep again.

During the REM sleep phase, nightmares occur in the second half of the night.

Why are we talking about nightmare disorder? Because its presence is constant and affects daily functioning and well-being.. In other words, it is not limited to a specific moment, but spreads over time.


Some symptoms of nightmare disorder include:

  • Frequent and continuous presentation.
  • During the day we remember the nightmare. It is difficult for us to break away from it, and it makes us feel uncomfortable again by evoking it. We may also have difficulty concentrating and keeping up with our tasks.
  • We experience fatigue and fatigueso the rest moment was not restful.
  • We have mood swings like irritabilityreluctance or suffering.
Nightmares that recur and disrupt our waking performance are part of a disorder.


There are different classifications for this disorder. First, depending on the duration:

  • Sharp: nightmares last less than a month.
  • Subacute: The event is between 1 and 6 months.
  • Insistent: Occurs over 6 months.

Regarding gravity:

  • Temperate: nightmares occur less than once a week.
  • Temperate: they happen a few times a week but not every night.
  • Serious: they happen almost every night for a week.


Now, nightmares can act as an indication or warning sign of something else happening to us, such as anxiety, stress, trauma, or depression. For example, nightmares are thought to be one of the ways the brain tries to process it. post traumatic stress. The intensity of lived experience is so strong that it is difficult to “process” or “transform” it during wakefulness. Again, trying to resolve “unspoken” somehow.

On the other hand, if there are changes in diet, routine and daily habits, if any events occur, etc., to determine the origin of the nightmare disorder. It is convenient to know. Insomnia is also a factor that paves the way for nightmares..

In this sense, differential diagnosis is necessary to be able to talk about this disorder. For example, if it occurs with substance use or if there is an underlying mental disorder, the diagnosis cannot be made.

How to overcome nightmare disorder?

There are different suggestions to consider for overcoming nightmare disorder. Some of them are as follows.

Make a medical consultation

Like this, you will be able to determine if there are any organic causes that may be affecting your rest.. For example, nightmares may occur with coronary heart disease.

Pay attention to your nighttime diet

Sleep quality also depends on it. food having consumed alcohol or any other substance at the last hour of the day. To encourage rest It is recommended to have a light dinner at least two hours before resting..

Practice proper sleep hygiene

One of the ways to cooperate with restful sleep is with prior preparation. For example, try to stick to a routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time. Also possible do some breathing exercises and relaxation.


Build your imagination with these endings: change content possible from the nightmare. Worry about dreams during the day can cause us to try to avoid remembering them.

Again, Such attempts often fail and lead to further disappointment. Instead, we can make the emotions conscious, identify what worries us about the dream, and think of a more pleasant ending. For example, if we imagine an animal attacking us, we can plan a different version where someone realizes that we have been attacked and comes to our aid.

Visualizing pleasant results for nightmares is a technique you can practice throughout the day.

seek professional help

You can do initiate psychological treatment developing skills in coping with stress and problem solving, healing past hurts, building resilience from a traumatic situation. A way to be active around our discomfort and not letting the dream (or rather the nightmare) solve it on its own.

Sleep quality is quality of life

when we sleep the brain gets rid of the activities and demands of the day. It allows us to clarify our ideas to make better decisions, but other processes also occur, such as the consolidation of learning.

Addressing nightmare disorder is important, as lack of rest is a limitation to having a good quality of life. Even if it lasts over time, it can create anxiety or phobia.

Sometimes, It leads to compensatory behaviors such as leaving the lights on or not being able to sleep alone.. Over time, this discomfort creates difficulties if it is not relieved.

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