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Sleep Disorders

Nightmares of Family Dying, Out of Nowhere?

10/29/2009

Question:

For the last couple of weeks I have been having nightmares. They mostly are with-in the first 3hrs I`m asleep. Nothing has changed in my life, I eat the same, been taking the same meds. They scare me so bad, that I get up crying. My dreams are always of death of myself or my family. One of my dreams I was trying everything I could to kill myself(Which is weird because Im not that kind of person.) another one, our car broke down and my son push the stroller (with my daughter in it) Into the middle of the freeway.. another one.. My husband, myself, and my kids were in the mountains, so one was hiding in the bushes, jumped out and started killing us. These dreams come out of no where.. I wake up cold, shaking, and scared.. I dont even want to fall asleep any more.. Im out of ideas on what it could be.

Answer:

It sounds like this is quite troubling to you and you are right to seek help. Without further information, I can’t give you an exact diagnosis, but based on the information you have provided, it sounds as though you have developed a nightmare disorder in the last few weeks. It’s also possible that these could be the result of anxiety or panic attacks, or the manifestation of another primary sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea or narcolepsy. OSA and narcolepsy are usually associated with excessive sleepiness during the daytime.

It would be a good idea to discuss your problems with your physician and possibly consider a referral to a sleep specialist if needed. I’ll address some issues about nightmares in general, and then talk about some simple conservative measures that may improve your sleep and, in some cases, can help to reduce the nightmares.

The onset of nightmares can be the result of a number of different factors, though most commonly they are associated with a traumatic event. Nightmares can also result from increased stress or conflict in life. Even if medications haven't changed, changes in doses may lead to changes in your sleep and could precipitate nightmares. Of course the use or withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol or illicit drugs, can bring on nightmares.

It’s a good idea to ensure one has good sleep habits to decrease the tendency to have fragmented sleep as this may contribute to the nightmares. Good sleep hygiene includes,

1. Caffeine

2. Nicotine (tobacco)

3. Alcohol

4. Diet

5. Exercise

6. Bedroom Environment

7. Bedtime Routine

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Meena S Khan, MD Meena S Khan, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University