What is nightmare disorder?

Updated: Aug 08, 2018
  • Author: Daniel R Neuspiel, MD, MPH, FAAP; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Sleep disorders, or parasomnias, occur in 35–45% of children aged 2–18 years. Common sleep disorders in children include sleepwalking, sleeptalking, night terrors, and nightmares.

Childhood parasomnias are believed to be benign disorders caused by immaturity of neural circuits, and most resolve during adolescence. [1]

Nightmares are defined as “recurrent episodes of awakening from sleep with recall of intensely disturbing dream mentation, usually involving fear or anxiety, but also anger, sadness, disgust, and other dysphoric emotions.” [2]

Nightmare disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as repeated awakenings with recollection of terrifying dreams, usually involving threats to survival, safety or physical integrity. [3]

Nightmares are frightening events for a child and may be concerning for the family; however, they are transient and developmentally normal for most children. [4]

Upon awakening from a nightmare, the child is alert and able to recall the dream in detail. The child's reaction to the nightmare may interrupt the parents' sleep. In the morning, children often recall the arousal. The sleep disturbance may impair the child’s daily functioning.

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