Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

There are no tests routinely done to diagnose nightmare disorder. Recurrent nightmares can sometimes indicate underlying anxiety. If that's likely, the doctor may refer the child to a psychologist for assessment and management.

Nightmare disorder should be distinguished from:

  • Sleep terrors, a different parasomnia in which you're likely to sit up, scream, talk, thrash and kick
  • REM sleep behavior disorder, which involves acting out dreams, shouting, punching or kicking

Occasionally, if your sleep is severely disturbed, your doctor may recommend an overnight sleep study to help determine if the nightmares are connected to another sleep disorder.

Sleep studies

A sleep study (polysomnography) is a test used to diagnose sleep disorders and typically requires that you spend the night in a sleep lab. During the test, sensors are placed on your head and body to record your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements. In some studies, a video camera will record your sleep.

Your doctor will review the information to determine whether you have any sleep disorders.

Aug. 09, 2014