Diagnosis

There are no tests routinely done to diagnose nightmare disorder. Nightmares are only considered a disorder if disturbing dreams cause you distress or keep you from getting enough sleep. To diagnose nightmare disorder, your doctor reviews your medical history and your symptoms. Your evaluation may include:

  • Exam. You may have a physical exam to identify any conditions that may be contributing to the nightmares. If your recurrent nightmares indicate underlying anxiety, the doctor may refer you to a mental health professional.
  • Symptoms discussion. Nightmare disorder is usually diagnosed based on your description of your experiences. Your doctor may ask about your family history of sleep problems. Your doctor may also ask you or your partner about your sleep behaviors and discuss the possibility of other sleep disorders, if indicated.
  • Nocturnal sleep study (polysomnography). 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. Sensors placed on your body will record and monitor your brain waves, the oxygen level in your blood, heart rate and breathing, as well as eye and leg movements while you sleep. You may be videotaped to document your behavior during sleep cycles.
July 06, 2017
References
  1. Sateia M. Nightmare disorder. International Classification of Sleep Disorders. 3rd ed. Darien, Ill.: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; 2014. http://www.aasmnet.org/EBooks/ICSD3. Accessed May 16, 2017.
  2. Nightmare disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed May 16, 2017.
  3. Kotagal S. Sleepwalking and other parasomnias in children. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 10, 2017.
  4. AskMayoExpert. Parasomnias. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.
  5. Parasomnias. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/parasomnias. Accessed May 10, 2017.
  6. Aurora RN, et al. Best practice guide for treatment of nightmare disorder in adults. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2010;6:389.
  7. Nadorff MR, et al. Pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments for nightmare disorder. International Review of Psychiatry. 2014;26:225.
  8. Nightmares. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://www.sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders-by-category/parasomnias/nightmares. Accessed May 16, 2017.
  9. Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 26, 2017.