If nightmares cause concerns about sleep disturbance or underlying conditions, consider seeing a doctor. The doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist or a mental health professional.
Keeping a sleep diary for two weeks before your appointment may help your doctor understand more about your sleep schedule, factors affecting your sleep and when nightmares occur. In the morning, record as much as you know of bedtime rituals, quality of sleep, and so on. At the end of the day, record behaviors that may affect sleep, such as sleep schedule disruptions, alcohol intake and any medications taken.
You may want to bring a family member or friend along, if possible, to provide additional information.
What you can do
Before your appointment, make a list of:
- Any symptoms experienced, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for the appointment
- Key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes
- All medications, vitamins, herbs or other supplements being taken, and the dosages
- Questions to ask the doctor to help make the most of your time together
Some questions to ask the doctor may include:
- What is likely causing these symptoms?
- What are other possible causes?
- What kinds of tests are needed?
- Is the condition likely temporary or chronic?
- What is the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- Are there any restrictions that need to be followed?
- Do you recommend seeing a specialist?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
The doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Be ready to answer them to reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you or your child begin experiencing symptoms?
- How often do the nightmares occur, and what are they about?
- What is the usual bedtime routine?
- Is there a history of sleep problems?
- Does anyone else in your family have sleep problems?
July 06, 2017
- 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.
- 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.
- Kotagal S. Sleepwalking and other parasomnias in children. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 10, 2017.
- AskMayoExpert. Parasomnias. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.
- Parasomnias. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/sleep-and-wakefulness-disorders/parasomnias. Accessed May 10, 2017.
- Aurora RN, et al. Best practice guide for treatment of nightmare disorder in adults. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2010;6:389.
- Nadorff MR, et al. Pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments for nightmare disorder. International Review of Psychiatry. 2014;26:225.
- Nightmares. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://www.sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders-by-category/parasomnias/nightmares. Accessed May 16, 2017.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 26, 2017.