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Dealing with Nightmares

Mind & Mood 07 May, 2024

Nightmares is the term used to describe sleep difficulty which involves incidents where a sleeping person may scream and feel terrified. Like sleepwalking or talking in your sleep, nightmares are a type of parasomnia, which is defined as unusual behaviour of the nervous system while asleep. Although children are mainly affected by nightmares and tend to grow out of them as they get older, the issue can affect adults as well.


There are several risks associated with nightmares, the first of which is that the person suffering from them may harm themselves while they are asleep. Nightmares are in some ways a very similar experience to sleepwalking, in that the person experiencing them may also get up and move around while still asleep. This can be dangerous enough with sleepwalking, but a person experiencing a night terror will be much more panicked, and much more likely to injure themselves, such as by falling down the stairs or tripping over an object, which can be especially dangerous if the person lives alone.  If the person in question lives with someone else, there is a risk that they may harm the other person, especially if they share a bed. Although most people grow out of night terrors by the time they are teenagers, if the issue continues in adulthood, the episodes can become more violent. This not only puts both parties at risk but also makes it difficult to form and maintain romantic relationships.

Causes of Night Terrors

Like many conditions that revolve around the mind, it can be difficult to identify the cause of nightmares in a patient. Illness, medicine, stress, sleep deprivation, new surroundings, head trauma, and other underlying sleep conditions are all possible causes of night terrors, among others. It has been observed that the condition often runs in families, so there may be a biological element in some cases, which is worth exploring if it is affecting you or someone you know.

Therapy for Nightmares

Therapy for nightmares can vary widely on a case-by-case basis, as each patient may have their terrors brought on by a different cause or combinations of causes. The first thing to do that can help with treatment is to keep a diary of when these episodes occur, what happens, and so on. This will help paint a clearer picture for you and your doctor. It should be noted that many adults often don’t remember that they’ve had a night terror, so you may need someone else to help keep this diary. If that is not an option, don’t worry. There are countless free apps you can download that will record any sounds you make while sleeping. This allows you to review your full night by looking only at the loudest moments, and could even provide some helpful insight to your doctor. 

When visiting your doctor, you will be asked a long list of questions to try and identify any indicators of the root of the problem. If you have any theories as to what may be causing these, don’t hold back. This is an issue that occurs outside the doctor’s office, so they mainly have to rely on what you tell them.  In some cases, you may need to undergo polysomnography, otherwise known as a sleep study. This will monitor your vital signs, brainwaves, limb movements and so on in the hopes of identifying an underlying cause.  Once the underlying cause has been identified, the doctor and patient can begin working to address it.

As the treatment in this case will be addressing the underlying cause and not the actual night terrors directly, the treatment process can vary significantly. Medication will usually be avoided as many drugs can exacerbate these problems, but medicine can be an effective treatment in some cases.

If you would like to avail of Counselling or Therapy for Nightmares, you can book an in-person or online appointment with us by calling 01 611 1719 or by emailing [email protected]. You can also choose to fill out the Enquiry form at the top of this page and we'll get back to you.