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What is Nightmare Disorder? CBT Kenya
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  • Posted by: cbtkeadmin

What is Nightmare Disorder? CBT Kenya

Nightmares are vividly realistic, disturbing dreams that rattle you awake from a deep sleep. They often set your heart pounding from fear. Nightmares tend to occur most often during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreaming takes place. Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find you experience nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

People of all ages have nightmares. However, nightmares are more common in children, especially those under age 10. Girls are more likely to be troubled by their nightmares than boys. Nightmares seem to be a part of normal development, and except in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they usually aren’t symptoms of any underlying medical condition or mental disorder.

However, nightmares can become a problem if they persist and interrupt your sleep pattern. This can lead to insomnia and difficulty functioning during the day. Consult with your doctor if you are having trouble coping with nightmares.

What causes nightmares?

The subjects of nightmares vary from person to person. There are, though, some common nightmares that many people experience. For example, a lot of adults have nightmares about not being able to run fast enough to escape danger or about falling from a great height. If you’ve gone through a traumatic event, such as an attack or accident, you may have recurrent nightmares about your experience.

  • Stress and anxiety: Sad, traumatic, or worrisome situations that induce stress and fear may provoke nightmares. People with chronic stress and anxiety may be more likely to develop nightmare disorder.
  • Withdrawal from some medications: Some medications suppress REM sleep, so when a person stops taking those medications, there is a short-term rebound effect of more REM sleep accompanied by more nightmares.
  • Sleep deprivation. Having inadequate sleep can increase a person’s risk of experiencing nightmares. Those who suffer from insomnia have higher risks of experiencing nightmares.
  • Scary movies, videos, or books. It is common for children to experience nightmares after watching a scary video. Some adults also experience nightmares after reading a scary book or watching a scary video. The risk is higher if this happens right before going to bed.
  • Trauma. It is normal to experience nightmares after an accident, sexual abuse, or other traumatic events. Nightmares are common in people who recently suffered from injuries.

Treatment for nightmare disorder

Treatment typically isn’t necessary unless one may be experiencing long periods of extreme distress or sleep disturbance, which may also interfere with daytime functioning. Before seeking or determining the right route for treatment, it’s important to consider the cause of the nightmare disorder. Once this has been considered, treatment may include:

  • Medical Treatment: If an underlying medical problem is determined, medical treatment can target the underlying condition.
  • Stress or Anxiety Treatment: If stress or anxiety appears to be contributing to the distressful dreams, stress-reduction methods and/or therapy may help
  • Imagery Rehearsal Therapy: Those who have nightmares due to PTSD may benefit from imagery rehearsal therapy, as it works to change the ending of a remembered threat or nightmare while awake, in order to remove the threat.
  • Medication: Though it is rarely used to treat nightmare disorder, medication may be recommended to help those with PTSD, suffering from severe nightmares.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine can stimulate your mind, which makes it harder to relax and fall asleep. Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can induce a REM rebound in the second half of the night that may worsen nightmares. As much as possible, it’s best to avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
  • Creating a comforting sleep environment: Your bedroom should promote a sense of calm with as few distractions or disruptions as possible. Set a comfortable temperature, block out excess light and sound, and set up your bed and bedding to be supportive and inviting.


Nightmares are generally harmless. They occur frequently in children but can also be a problem for adults. It is common to experience nightmares once in a while. A person may have a nightmare disorder if he repeatedly experiences nightmares. This can result in sleep deprivation. A child may be afraid to go back to sleep after an episode. Someone who experienced nightmares the night before may be afraid to go to sleep the following night.

Nightmare disorder is an upsetting condition that’s very difficult for most people to manage. Even an occasional nightmare has the potential to be deeply upsetting and troubling. If you add the consistency of recurring dreams and consistently inadequate sleep to the mix, then you can see how nightmare sleep disorder can make waking life a living hell. The good news is that there are some incredibly effective treatments available for nightmare disorder. Your doctor or healthcare provider will be able to suggest a treatment plan based on your background and symptoms.

Why not talk to us?

Are your nightmares causing you significant distress? Are they interrupting your sleep on a regular basis? If so, it’s important to determine what’s causing your adult nightmares. Then you can make changes to reduce their occurrence.

CBT-Kenya (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Kenya) counseling center offers counseling and therapy sessions for persons from all walks of life. We focus on helping clients gain insight into themselves by going through a healing process. Our purpose is to help you to achieve your therapeutic and life goals, to improve the quality of your life and to help you to build strong relationships in your life. Get in touch or book an appointment on +254 739 935 333, +254 756 454 585 or info@cbtkenya.org.

Author: cbtkeadmin
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