Parasomnia: Nightmares in Adults

Parasomnia: Nightmares in Adults

By Lynette Rivas

Nightmares are supposed to diminish as you grow up, right? While this is true for most of the population, it is not the case for some individuals. Research shows that between 2% and 8% of the adult population experiences frequent and distressing nightmares, otherwise known as parasomnia.

Nightmares are realistic and vividly disturbing dreams that awaken you from sleep. They most often occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when most dreaming takes place, and occur closer to morning hours. Nightmares may include:

  • Vivid and upsetting dreams
  • Dreams involving threats to safety
  • Being awoken from the dream
  • Feeling anxious, scared, or sad as a result from the dream
  • Not being able to fall back to sleep due to the dream

For adults, nightmares are often spontaneous, but for some, there may be an underlying issue that can be used to explain these dreams. Nightmares can be triggered by stress, trauma, sleep deprivation, substance abuse, medications, or by simply watching a scary movie. Although nightmares occur occasionally compared to normal dreams, they are considered a disorder if they:

  • Occur frequently
  • Cause major distress throughout the day, such as anxiety or fear
  • Cause problems with concentration or memory
  • Cause daytime sleepiness

If these symptoms are occurring, then it is time to consult a doctor about possible treatments. The doctor will determine if the solution is through treatments and medication, or will give a referral to a psychologist or psychotherapist. Debilitating and frequent nightmares, or parasomnia, is a serious condition that can alter an individual’s life, so it is important to seek help if they occur.

If you or someone you know is experiencing debilitating/frequent nightmares please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit



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