Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

There are no tests routinely done to diagnose nightmares. 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. Nightmares should be distinguished from night terrors, another parasomnia in which you are likely to sit up, scream, talk, thrash and kick, and, for older adults, REM sleep behavior disorder, which involves the acting out of dreams.

Sleep studies

To participate in a sleep study, also known as a polysomnogram, you'll likely spend the night in a sleep lab. Sensors that send electrical signals will be placed on various parts of your body, and a monitor will be attached to your finger. In some studies, a video camera will record your sleep. Throughout the night, the sensors will record your:

  • Heartbeat
  • Brain waves
  • Breathing
  • Eye movements
  • Leg movements
  • Muscle tension
  • Blood oxygen level

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

Aug. 12, 2011

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