Scenario: A zombie is running after you and then suddenly you fell off the ground. You looked back and the zombie was just a step closer to you. When the zombie was about to bite you, you woke up from bed and realized that it was just a dream. This scenario is one popular component of nightmares people frequently encounter. What is nightmare and what are the causes of nightmares?
A nightmare is a bad dream that causes one to wake up from a sleep, leaving that person feeling terrified. The dream may contain situations where danger, physical terror, psychological terror or discomfort is present. Some sufferers may wake up feeling distressed and could not get back to bed for prolonged period of time.
Nightmares are not common for those who are under 5 years old. They are common in young children and adolescents wherein nightmares may be encountered once a week. As one ages, the incident of nightmare decreases.
Screaming is more common in nightmare encounters than crying or moaning. Screaming situation can last for about 5 to 20 minutes. Heavy sweating and tremors can also accompany screaming. When the sufferer wakes up from sleep, he/she has a good recall of the bad dream and sometimes become a hindrance why he/she could not go back to sleep immediately. Those who encounter several episodes of nightmare a week could have sleep deprivation which could reflect to poor work performance and loss of day energy. Other problems associated with sleep deprivation are decreased mental processing, daytime sleepiness, irritability, mild depression, and problems with attention span.
The main cause of nightmare is not yet fully known but studies have shown that stress and major psychological trauma, such as in post traumatic stress disorder, can trigger occurrence of nightmares. Other causes of nightmares are awkward position during sleeping and eating before bed. Eating before bedtime increases one’s metabolic function thus serves as a potential stimulus for nightmares.
Diagnosis of nightmare is made by a mental health service provider such as psychiatrists. The sufferer must meet the four criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders so to have the diagnosis. The four criteria are as follows:
1. The sufferer must have repeated awakenings from frightening dreams.
2. When the sufferer awakens, he/she must be fully awake and have a full awareness of the surroundings.
3. The nightmare must cause distress in the important areas of the patient’s life.
4. The nightmare should not be caused by another disorder or as direct effect from medication intake, substance abuse, or any medical condition.
Psychological counseling and psychotherapy can be used to manage nightmare. Since stress is considered as a major contributor to occurrence of nightmare, several stress reducing activities like yoga and meditation can be done to decrease the level of stress in the person’s body.