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Facts about Nightmares

  • Most people have experienced nightmares, but this phenomenon seems to occur most commonly in children, especially preschoolers between the ages of 3 to 6.
  • This may be because this is the age at which normal fears develop and a child's imagination is very active. If nightmares occur repeatedly, the possibility of a nightmare disorder should be considered.
  • Nightmares can be distinguished from night terrors as children waking from nightmares are able to recall their dreams vividly both upon awakening and in the morning.
  • In contrast, when children experience night terrors, they remain in a deep sleep and do not recall the event. Each of these can be equally upsetting to parents.

What is a nightmare?

A nightmare is a dream turned bad. Most nightmares involve a threat or a dangerous situation that the sleeper feels unable to control during the dream. Through history, nightmares have been attributed to visits from demons to evidence of some type of underlying disturbance. Today, it is recognized that occasional nightmares are a normal event. As stated above, the majority of people have experienced nightmares at some point, although adults seem to have bad dreams less often than children. Nightmares can include monsters or other scary figures or may involve situations such as being chased or other danger.

Nightmares are not the same as night terrors. Children who are experiencing a nightmare do not typically vocalize or thrash about. In contrast, night terrors are associated with crying or screaming and movement where it appears that the child is panic-stricken. Children who experience night terrors remain asleep throughout the event and do not remember that it occurred the next day. Night terrors take place during non-REM sleep and often occur during the first half of the night.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Nightmares:

Nightmares - Causes

What do you think causes your nightmares?

Fear of Going to Bed

An abnormal and persistent fear of going to bed. Sufferers of this fear experience anxiety even though they realize that going to bed normally should not threaten their well-being. However, because they worry about having nightmares or wetting the bed, they often remain awake and develop insomnia. Insomnia then can become a real threat to their well-being.

Fear of going to bed is termed "clinophobia," a word derived from the Greek "klinein" (to bend, slope or incline, as one does during sleep) and "phobos" (fear). Another medical term containing "clino-"is "clinodactyly" meaning a finger that is curved to the side.


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