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SUNY Downstate Sleep Disorders Center

Nightmares

What Are Nightmares?

A nightmare is a vivid dream occurring during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that induces strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or extreme anxiety. Nightmares are usually in the latter part of the night and awaken the person, who is able to recall the content of the dream in detail. Usually, the person having a nightmare has difficulty returning to sleep.

Nightmares tend to be more common among children and become less frequent toward adulthood. About 50% of adults have occasional nightmares, women more often than men.

What Causes Nightmares?

Nightmares can be caused by many factors including illness, anxiety, the loss of a loved one, reaction to medication, excessive alcohol consumption, sleep apnea, or eating right before going to bed.