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Nightmares are a strange phenomenon for few people - most of us have dreams in which we run away from something extremely dangerous or in which we simply lose our lives. Just as the occasional occurrence of unpleasant dreams is not a cause for concern, their regular occurrence may even have a very negative impact on human he alth. Where do nightmares come from and what can be done to stop them waking the patient from sleep?

Nightmareshappen to almost everyone - according to statistics, even 90% of the population. Most often, nightmares are encountered in the youngest - it is estimated that among children aged 3 to 5, they appear with a high frequency in even 50% of them. With age, the frequency of unpleasant dreams in humans decreases, and eventually, in adults, nightmares occurring at least once a week are found in 1% of them.

Nightmares: causes

The exact mechanism in which people experience nightmares has not been clearly defined so far. It is known that unpleasant dreams - as well as pleasant ones - occur during the REM sleep phase.

Much more known than the very mechanism of nightmares are the problems that can lead to their occurrence. Contrary to appearances, there are more of them than you might expect and they include:

  • chronic stress (it can lead to nightmares in people of any age, but it is of particular importance in the case of unpleasant dreams in children - for them, experiencing stress at school or at home is the main cause of nightmares)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD - in this case the presence of nightmares about a traumatic event is one of the criteria for the diagnosis of this disorder)
  • sleep apnea
  • depressive disorders and anxiety disorders
  • significant life changes (we are talking about such events as the death of a very close person, change of place of residence, loss of job or change of school - they can lead to the feeling of very strong stress and thus they can cause nightmares)
  • substance abuse (nightmares may appear especially during periods of abstinence)

Interestingly, sometimes the cause of nightmares is consuming bythe patient of any medications. The preparations that may lead to unpleasant dreams include

  • antihypertensive drugs
  • antidepressants
  • preparations used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease

Another problem that can contribute to unpleasant dreams is eating a large meal before going to bed - although it is not known why this is so, it can contribute to the emergence of nightmares.

Nightmares: Symptoms

A nightmare is a dream whose subject matter revolves around life-threatening or extremely unpleasant events for the patient. These kinds of dreams have very different content, usually they concern participation in some accidents, falling or running away from a murderer.

A characteristic feature of nightmares is that they awaken the patient from sleep, and upon waking up, the patient experiences anxiety, fear or even anger. It is also typical that a person who wakes up at night due to nightmares later finds it extremely difficult to fall asleep again.

Nightmares: consequences

Children who wake up due to an unpleasant sleep usually hear from their caregivers that they are not in danger and that it was just a bad dream.

Indeed, the occasional occurrence of nightmares does not have to be a cause for concern, but it is definitely different when unpleasant dreams appear in humans with a high frequency. In such a situation it may lead to many different threats.

As a result of a nightmare, there may be an increase in the release of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Just as a one-time or several-time occurrence of such a phenomenon does not pose a threat, multiple nightmares - and thus multiple increased release of cortisol - may already lead to he alth-threatening consequences (such as a significant weakening of the body's immunity).

A person who is often plagued by nightmares is not a well-rested person - difficulties falling asleep again after a bad sleep may result in a feeling of tiredness during the day, as well as significant disturbances in concentration, leading to difficulties in driving a car or performing ordinary activities. professional duties.

Constant nightmares also contribute to various mental disorders, incl. depressive disorders.

So it is clear that the problem in the form of frequent nightmares is simply serious and should not be underestimated, but its causes should be looked for.

Nightmares: diagnostics

Usually until the reason is foundif the patient has nightmares, it is sufficient to conduct a thorough medical interview with him. It is quite often possible to find abnormalities that may be responsible for the appearance of unpleasant dreams, such as depressive disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.

It is easy to say that this is the cause of nightmares when the patient has already been diagnosed with such a mental disorder - sometimes, however, it is only when looking for the sources of the nightmares experienced by him that he / she suffers from some mental disorders, which may be the reason.

During the interview, the patient is asked many different questions, incl. about what medications he takes (after all, some pharmaceuticals can provoke nightmares), but also about what time he goes to sleep, when he gets up and what he does before going to bed (sometimes it is the improper sleep hygiene that is responsible for the patient's unpleasant dreams sleepy).

Usually the interview itself makes it possible to find the cause of the nightmares, but if, even after carefully collecting it, it is not possible to determine what caused them, it may be helpful to perform a polysomnographic examination on the patient.

Nightmares: treatment

Finding the cause of nightmares is very important because it is what causes them that determines what kind of treatment will be offered to the patient.

When depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are behind the nightmares, pharmacotherapy (based on the use of antidepressants) and psychotherapy may be helpful. Psychotherapeutic interactions are also used when nightmares occur due to the constant experience of stress.

And when unpleasant dreams are a consequence of the use of some medications, it is sometimes necessary to modify pharmacotherapy and recommend the patient to use medications that will not contribute to the occurrence of nightmares.

In people who often have nightmares, it is also extremely important to follow the rules of proper sleep hygiene. The condition for maintaining it is, first of all, going to bed and getting out of bed at the same time (even on weekends), avoiding heavy meals before going to bed, but also devoting time before bedtime only to quiet activities (spending time with an exciting film, computer, but also doing sports immediately before going to sleep will definitely have a negative effect on the quality of sleep after that).

About the authorBow. Tomasz NęckiA graduate of medicine at the Medical University of Poznań. Devoteethe Polish sea (most willingly strolling along its shores with headphones in their ears), cats and books. In working with patients, he focuses on always listening to them and spending as much time as they need.

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