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Nightmares (cont.)

Nightmares Treatment

  • No specific medical treatment is indicated for nightmares.
  • If a nightmare occurs, reassurance and comfort are appropriate.
  • If nightmares occur frequently, an evaluation of daytime routines is needed. This includes assessing exposure to daytime stressors, television, or video games and bedtime practices.
  • Research suggests that dreams can be impacted by conscious thought before bed; remembering fun events or funny stories can sometimes help derail a nightmare before it begins.

  • Lucid dreaming, or being aware during a dream, can help redirect a nightmare into a pleasant dream.

Nightmare prevention

Practicing good sleep hygiene is important for everyone who has experienced nightmares. This includes:

  • establishing a bedtime routine that starts at the same time every evening and
  • making bedtime a safe and comfortable time.

For children:

  • using a nightlight can decrease fear or anxiety;
  • discussing “monsters” -- either under the bed or in the closet -- and showing the child that nothing harmful is present can be reassuring; and
  • imagining alternate endings to nightmares can provide a child with a sense of empowerment prior to going to sleep.

For adults, improvement in sleep/wake cycles can be seen with:

  • eliminating television or computer exposure an hour or more before bedtime;
  • maintaining consistent sleep and wake times;
  • eliminating working in bed;
  • cutting back on caffeine after 1PM (for those who work daytime hours); and
  • practicing lucid dreaming.

If nightmares occur frequently (more than two nights per week over many months), then psychological evaluation is suggested. Different types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and hypnosis, can be of benefit in decreasing the frequency of nightmares.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2012

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