Almost everyone experiences nightmares. Being jolted awake by a nightmare can leave you feeling momentarily disturbed, frightened, or distressed. But some nightmares can be so intense they can have a significant effect on your physical and mental well-being.
Effects of Nightmares
It is common to have the occasional nightmare. But there's a big difference when these nightmares become so extreme they affect your health. Nightmares tend to happen in the later part of the night during REM sleep, and they may cause varying effects.
Problems With Mood
When you have a nightmare, the emotions associated with it can remain with you throughout the day. It can affect you mood and behavior while you're awake. Even if you forget what your nightmare was about, that unpleasant, distressing feeling will linger with you. If you are relentlessly bothered by a nightmare, it may lead you to feeling anxious or depressed. But if you already suffer from anxiety or depression, you are more likely to be adversely affected by nightmares.
There was a recent study that found fatigue and insomnia were linked to frequent nightmares. If you experience interrupted sleep from nightmares, it would not be unusual to experience extreme fatigue during the day. You may also have problems functioning and performing your everyday tasks or concentrating at work or school.
Resistance Going to Sleep
The nightmares may be so severe you don't want to go to bed out to fear that you will have another nightmare when you go to sleep.
Sleep deprivation can cause nightmares and in turn, nightmares can cause sleep deprivation. It can be a vicious cycle. Regardless, sleep deprivation can ultimately lead to multiple medical conditions such as:
- Heart disease
It has been found there is a connection between nightmares and suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Nightmares can also be due to underlying disorders such as untreated sleep apnea or post-traumatic stress disorder. If this is not diagnosed appropriately, you can develop significant negative effects on your overall health.
Fear and terror are the most common feelings associated with nightmares. But you can also evoke other types of negative emotions because of a nightmare. These can also leave you severely distressed and upset. These emotions include:
Occasional nightmares are not typically a cause for concern, but you may have a nightmare disorder called parasomnia if you experience:
- Frequent nightmares that occur over time that prevent you from getting a good night sleep
- Fear of the dark or going to bed
- Concentration problems or memory lapses
- Anxiety about having another nightmare
- Extreme sleepiness during the day
- Problems functioning at work/school
These symptoms are extreme and would warrant a visit to your doctor.
You have a higher risk of nightmares if you:
- Have irregular sleep patterns, are overtired or are dealing with stress and/or anxiety
- Have other family members that have a history of nightmares or if they have other sleep disorders
When to See a Doctor
If nightmares are causing persistent anxiety, affecting your daily routine or impacting your quality of life, you should speak with your doctor. He or she may refer you to specific therapies that can help with sleep disorders.