Nightmares: from anxiety symptom to sleep disorder

Victor I Spoormaker, Michael Schredl, Jan van den Bout
Sleep Medicine Reviews 2006, 10 (1): 19-31
The DSM-IV-TR definition of nightmares-extremely frightening dreams from which the person wakes up directly-is unnecessarily narrow. Other emotions (anger, grief) have also been reported in nightmares, and direct awakening from a bad dream seems to be unrelated to increased distress. In addition, assessment of nightmares is problematic. Polysomnographic recordings have an ameliorating effect on nightmare frequency, retrospective measurements tend to underestimate nightmare frequency, and persons with frequent nightmares may feel reluctant to fill out (daily) prospective measurements. For studying nightmares, it is necessary to distinguish idiopathic nightmares from posttraumatic nightmares, which are part of a posttraumatic stress reaction or disorder that may result from experiencing a traumatic event. Both types of nightmares have been associated with an elevated level of periodic limb movements, although only posttraumatic nightmares seem to be related to more and longer nocturnal awakenings. Nightmares have also been repeatedly associated with the general level of psychopathology, or the so-called personality factor neuroticism. Nightmare distress, the impact on daily functioning caused by nightmares, may function as a mediating variable. Several studies in the last decades have shown that nightmares can be treated with several cognitive-behavioral techniques. The cognitive-restructuring technique imagery rehearsal therapy is the treatment of choice for nightmares, although a randomized controlled trial with an attention control-group has not yet been carried out. Nightmares are more than a symptom of a larger (anxiety) syndrome and need to be viewed from a sleep medicine perspective: nightmares are a highly prevalent and separate sleep disorder that can and should receive specific treatment.

Full Text Links

Find Full Text Links for this Article


You are not logged in. Sign Up or Log In to join the discussion.

Related Papers

Remove bar
Read by QxMD icon Read

Save your favorite articles in one place with a free QxMD account.


Search Tips

Use Boolean operators: AND/OR

diabetic AND foot
diabetes OR diabetic

Exclude a word using the 'minus' sign

Virchow -triad

Use Parentheses

water AND (cup OR glass)

Add an asterisk (*) at end of a word to include word stems

Neuro* will search for Neurology, Neuroscientist, Neurological, and so on

Use quotes to search for an exact phrase

"primary prevention of cancer"
(heart or cardiac or cardio*) AND arrest -"American Heart Association"