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A nightmare is a disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear that awakens you. Nightmares are common in children, but can happen at any age, and occasional nightmares usually are nothing to worry about.
Nightmares may begin in children between 3 and 6 years old and tend to decrease after the age of 10. During the teen and young adult years, girls appear to have nightmares more often than boys do. Some people have them as adults or throughout their lives.
Although nightmares are common, nightmare disorder is relatively rare. Nightmare disorder is when nightmares happen often, cause distress, disrupt sleep, cause problems with daytime functioning or create fear of going to sleep.
You’re more likely to have a nightmare in the second half of your night. Nightmares may occur rarely or more frequently, even several times a night. Episodes are generally brief, but they cause you to awaken, and returning to sleep can be difficult.
A nightmare may involve these features:
Nightmares are only considered a disorder if you experience:
Having a child with nightmare disorder can cause significant sleep disturbance and distress for parents or caregivers.
Occasional nightmares aren’t usually a cause for concern. If your child has nightmares, you can simply mention them at a routine well-child exam. However, consult your doctor if nightmares:
Nightmare disorder is referred to by doctors as a parasomnia — a type of sleep disorder that involves undesirable experiences that occur while you’re falling asleep, during sleep or when you’re waking up. Nightmares usually occur during the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). The exact cause of nightmares is not known.
Nightmares can be triggered by many factors, including:
Nightmares are more common when family members have a history of nightmares or other sleep parasomnias, such as talking during sleep.
Nightmare disorder may cause:
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