A bad dream is known as a nightmare and has been likened to watching a scary movie while you sleep. A nightmare is a disturbing event or frightening fantasy that impacts our sleep and the way we approach the following day. A nightmare leaves us feeling emotionally out of sorts and the effects can remain with us after we have woken up, leaving us with negative thoughts and feelings. The themes of bad dreams differ from person to person, but the most frequent ones are running or falling or feeling lost or trapped. Nightmares can induce various feelings, including fright and anxiety. Everyone who has had a nightmare recognises this. However, children under the age of ten have far more nightmares.​

What are nightmares?

Parasomnia is another name for nightmare disorder. Nightmare disorder is a type of sleep issue in which distressing feelings may appear while you sleep. REM sleep phases are when nightmares typically occur. However, it’s still unclear how they are induced.

Nightmare Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has specific DSM-5 criteria for nightmare disorder are as follows:  Recurrent bouts of lengthy, severely unpleasant and well-remembered dreams frequently entail efforts to avoid threats to survival or security or bodily integrity. The nightmares generally occur in the second half of a major sleep episode.
birds in the night sky

What causes nightmares in adults?

hand sticking out of a riverThere are a variety of issues that can trigger nightmares. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Nightmares Many people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience the distressing symptom of nightmares as a result of their traumatic memory or memories. Often the nightmares are directly connected to past distressing events they have experienced. ​Adults can have recurring nightmares on occasion. They might also be linked to other issues and diseases. For example, people who eat late at night sometimes suffer from nightmares that boost their metabolism and stimulate their bodies to become more active.

What are the health effects of nightmares in adults?

Nightmares have an impact on you and how you feel. For example, a person who dreams may be considerably more stressed than they would have been otherwise, and the experience might even have a worse influence. Talk with your GP about nightmares Although no one can honestly explain the relationship, traumatic nightmares are linked to suicide. Because nightmares might have a significant impact on your health if you have them daily. For that reason, it’s critical that you talk with your GP about them. Sleep deprivation caused by regular nightmares has several negative side effects, including difficulty functioning throughout the day.

How do nightmares present?

The typical duration of a nightmare is two minutes. Nightmares are generally short or long in duration. Nightmares can impact sleep patterns and quality. The episode is usually brief, but it causes you to wake up, and resuming sleep may be difficult. Nightmares are particularly distressing for children and their families. Risk factors Frequent nightmares are sometimes seen more in people who have a family member with a history of nightmares sleep parasomnias. Adult nightmares are common, but it’s not clear whether lack of sleep causes them or if they’re a consequence of having them. While it’s conceivable, nightmare disorder hasn’t been verified as a by-product.

What do Nightmares Mean in Psychology?

Psychology Today states a bad dream, on the other hand, can be a terrifying nightmare—a frightening collection of scenes that generate a little emotional reaction from the dreamer. However, a nightmare might induce feelings of dread, terror, and anxiety; prompting the person to wake up and elicit distressing emotional reactions such as sleeplessness or other sleep problems or even daytime worry.


bodies suspended under water

What causes nightmares?

Nightmares are usually the result of a variety of things. Sleep disorders that disrupt an individual’s circadian rhythm, such as jet lag, can trigger nightmares. Sleep apnoea has also been linked to recurrent nightmares People who use drugs or other stimulants to increase their energy levels might also experience night terrors. The link between nightmares and depression Many people develop nightmares because of depression or other sleep issues, although some people grow out of them by the age of 20. Stress is another possible cause of nightmares in adults. A person can have a nightmare after eating a large meal before going to bed. A person may also experience nightmares after experiencing something unpleasant in their daily lives. According to research, it has been found that people who have been through accidents or catastrophic events are more likely to suffer from night terrors than those who have not. In addition, nightmares are more common in women than men.
Does medication cause nightmares? Medications and other drug use can also be linked to the emergence of frightening dreams. Non-psychological nightmare drugs include high-dose blood-pressure medicines. If you cease taking any medication or begin taking a tranquilliser, you could have unpleasant dreams as a result. People who take certain medications may also experience nightmares when they go to sleep. These medicines include diuretics (water pills) and tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (elavil), desipramine (norpramin), doxepin (sinequan), and nortriptyline (aventyl and pamelor). Taking these medications can cause mild depression or excessive drowsiness. They may also have other unpleasant effects on the individual taking them. In addition to seeing your doctor, if you experience night terrors, talk with your friends and family. Everyone close to you should know about it because nightmares can affect the dynamics of your social group. Speaking up about your nightmares is the first step to getting the support you need to treat them.

Treatments for nightmares in adults

Thankfully, your doctor may be able to reduce or even eliminate your nightmares. If a drug causes a nightmare, you can take a lower dose to prevent it. The treatment of insomnia, linked with sleep disorders, may help relieve the symptoms. Treatment such as talk therapy can be beneficial because it encourages the sufferer to talk about the parts of the nightmare that make them feel scared and the areas of their daily life where they experience stress or even traumatic stress. Do not worry if your night terrors are unrelated to medicine or disease, as this is the case with 70% of people who suffer from a sleep disorder such as nightmares.

How can eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) treat nightmares?

EMDR treatment is a phased and focused way to treat trauma in a safe and measured manner by reconnecting an emotionally affected person to images of trauma. It is a natural and effective treatment that focuses on psychological trauma. Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy was initially used to treat the effects of war, rape, assault and accidents. However, it has since been found that people who have experienced extreme shock or stress can also benefit from EMDR. ​ Standard benefits of EMDR therapy are:

  • Reduced symptoms of nightmares
  • Improved sleep and ability in falling asleep
  • Improved mood and mental health
  • Prevention of future episodes of night terrors by addressing their cause in the past.

Emotional benefits of EMDR are:

  • A reduction in negative emotions
  • Peace of mind, and a lack anxiety at bedtime, knowing that you’re finally free from nightmares
  • A sense of relief that your sleep has improved and your
  • The knowledge that you have returned to life before the nightmare phase began.


​EMDR is a non-invasive treatment option for nightmares

One of the best things about EMDR therapy is that it’s natural and non-invasive. The fact that you can use this method of treatment without compromising other treatments or medications, means it’s very safe, especially for seniors, children, and those who may be on other drugs. This paves the way for a comfortable treatment that will hopefully lead you to a more pleasant life experience. EMDR is proven effective for treating nightmares EMDR treatment has been proven effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of PTSD symptoms, including nightmares because it can help your brain process your traumatic memories efficiently and effectively. Does cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) help with nightmares One of the most common methods therapists use to deal with nightmares is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that allows a person to think and behave differently. The goal of this method of treatment is to help you understand why you’re having nightmares, so you can change them from being frightening or stressful. ​ A disadvantage of using CBT for nightmares is that the patient needs to understand why they are having a nightmare in the first place, which can be challenging to work through. For this reason, CBT is not recommended for children.

EMDR treatment in Geelong West

At Create Balance Psychotherapy and Counselling, our practitioners use EMDR to treat a range of psychological health concerns, including sleep disturbances and nightmares. Clients can feel reassured that their EMDR therapy will not affect any other treatments or medications they are receiving. EMDR is an innovative therapy that is safe, non invasive and risk free. Feel free to click on this link to learn more about EMDR at Create Balance. To make a booking please call us on 0434 415 575 or (03) 5222 1553 or use our online booking form.

Shannon giving a treatment

Shannon Bowman EMDR Therapist Geelong West
Author ​Shannon Bowman is director of Create Balance Psychotherapy and Counselling is leading neuro- auricular methods for EMDR at his practice in Geelong. He has partnered with the Canadian Institute of Auricular Medicine (CIAM) to enhance the dynamic and highly effective treatment for mental health conditions. Shannon’s passion is finding solutions to mental health issues through novel, innovative and complementary and alternative medicine.