Thursday, July 14, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Nightmares are common, typically starting in early childhood and tending to decrease after age 10. But teens and adults can be jolted by nightmares, too. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter explains why nightmares may occur in adults and ways to decrease their frequency.
Everyone has bad dreams occasionally, but nightmares tend to be more disturbing as they unfold. People are awakened from nightmares; often recall the dream in detail; and may feel fear, anxiety, anger, sadness or disgust from the dream. Returning to sleep may be difficult.
What causes nightmares isn't always clear. Daily life stressors as well as major life changes — a death of a loved one or a move — may trigger more frequent nightmares. Traumatic events, such as an accidents or injuries, may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where trauma-related nightmares may occur. Medications that affect neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) like norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine can cause more frequent nightmares. Examples include drugs containing levodopa and reserpine (Serpalan) as well as beta blockers and antidepressants. Drinking alcohol can trigger nightmares, too. Alcohol is associated with more intense dreaming as well as better recall of dreams.
Occasional nightmares aren't a cause for concern. But if the thought of sleep causes anxiety and fear about recurring nightmares, checking with a physician is a good idea. Nightmares associated with an underlying medical condition or mental health condition can generally be managed by treating the underlying problem. Stress reduction techniques, counseling or therapy may be helpful.
A doctor may suggest keeping a sleep diary to track sleep patterns and factors that may affect sleep. For sleep that's severely disrupted, an overnight sleep study may be recommended to help determine causes and treatment options.
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