General Health

What Causes Nightmares?

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By Apollo 24/7, Published on- 09 February 2022, Updated on - 29 January 2024

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Upon waking up from sleep, it is normal to remember certain dreams. However, a nightmare is a disturbing dream that makes you wake up in the middle of the night. Research suggests it is normal to have nightmares once in a while and is more commonly experienced by children between the age group of 3 to 6 years. Also, one is likely to experience them more when stressed, undergoing emotional turmoil, watching a scary movie, or seeing disturbing images.


Are nightmares a cause for worry? 

Occasional nightmares are common, and not a cause for worry. However, if the nightmares are recurrent, disturbing the sleep cycle and affecting day-to-day life, one should consult a psychotherapist and explore medical reasons such as sleep anomalies and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 


What are the other factors that can disrupt sleep?

  1. Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety often affect the sleep cycle. For example, excess worry and fear can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. In addition, anxiety coupled with insomnia can trigger nightmares. 

  1. Certain medications and medical conditions

Certain medications such as beta-blockers, antidepressants, corticosteroids, statins and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can interfere with sleep. They can also cause drowsiness during the day. Cholinesterase inhibitors—a class of drugs that helps boost memory and alertness in patients with dementia—is also known to cause sleeplessness and unpleasant dreams. 

  1. Sleep deprivation

Changes in sleeping patterns and insomnia can increase the likelihood of experiencing nightmares. In the case of chronic insomnia, doctors might prescribe medication to help with sleep hygiene. 


Recommended Read: Why Good Sleep Is Necessary To Keep Lifestyle Diseases At Bay?


Disturbing content

Research suggests that children are more prone to nightmares than adults when they watch disturbing images or movies. In fact, it has been observed that horror movies may trigger bad dreams and nightmares, even in adults. 


Why do some people get frequent nightmares?

Dr C Manjula Rao, a clinical psychologist associated with Apollo 24|7, states that “Nightmares are common among children from 3 to 10 years and gradually decrease after that. If it persists, frequently, causing fatigue, daytime sleepiness, bad mood or poor performance at school or work, then it needs to be addressed. In adults, the main cause for nightmares is when one experiences immense anxiety, especially related to one's health or safety. Another important cause is stress and depression. Nightmares are also seen in people misusing substances like alcohol or recreational drugs. People going through treatment for cancer or heart disease or major surgery can also experience frequent nightmares.”

How to deal with nightmares?

It is common to have bad dreams and nightmares once in a while. However, bad dreams are different from nightmares. Bad dreams don’t wake you up, whereas nightmares are known to disrupt sleep. 

Nightmares are particularly common in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who have experienced traumas in life or were serving in military war zones. Research indicates that 80-90% of people suffering from PTSD experience nightmares. However, if they get frequent, these remedies may help: 

  • Practice yoga and brisk walking for 20 minutes daily
  • Spend time in the sun or take vitamin D supplements
  • Try supplements such as B vitamins, ashwagandha, and melatonin to lower stress 
  • Eat small non-spicy meals 
  • Listen to peaceful music before sleep 
  • Establish a regular sleeping regime 
  • Limit screen time to one hour before sleep
  • Cut back on late-night snacking or alcohol consumption, instead drink a glass of warm milk
  • Wear comfortable clothing 

Do not worry if you are not able to establish a sleeping regime within a week. Sometimes it may take up to 30 days or more to establish sleep hygiene.


Recommended Read: Health Tips To Manage Stress


Nightmares are bad dreams that can leave you with an unpleasant feeling. Moreover, recurring nightmares can cause severe sleep deprivation and even depression. Doctors suggest that relaxation techniques and maintaining a good sleep cycle can help avoid recurring nightmares. However, one should seek medical help, if they do not get relief by following these measures. If you are suffering from frequent nightmares,


Consult Dr C Manjula Rao Now


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