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.
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
- Nightmares and sleep. National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/abnormal-sleep-behaviors/nightmares-and-sleep. Accessed May 27, 2014.
- Goldstein CA. Parasomonias. Disease-a-Month. 2011;57:364.
- Augedal AW, et al. Randomized controlled trials of psychological and pharmacological treatments for nightmares: A meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2013;17:143.
- Sateia M. International Classification of Sleep Disorders. 3rd ed. Darien, Ill.: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; 2014. http://www.aasmnet.org/EBooks/ICSD3. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- Sleep-wake disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Sleep-wake disorders. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.psychiatry.org/dsm5. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Carter KA, et al. Common sleep disorders in children. American Family Physician. 2014;89:368.
- In-lab sleep study. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://www.sleepeducation.com/disease-management/in-lab-sleep-study/overview. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Haupt M, et al. Just a scary dream? A brief review of sleep terrors, nightmares and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. Pediatric Annals. 2013;42:211.
- Nightmares. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://www.sleepeducation.com/sleep-disorders/nightmares. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Brain basics: Understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm#dreaming. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Silber MH (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 25, 2014.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 1, 2014.
- Kotagal S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 7, 2014.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.