You have probably had a nightmare at least once or twice, such scary dreams can lead to terrifying imaginations and lack of sleep or worse, as doctors say. According to Mayo Clinic, nightmares may begin in children between three and six years old and tend to decrease after the age of 10. During the teen and young adult years, girls appear to have nightmares more often than boys do. Some people have them as adults or throughout their lives. For Yvonne Uwamahoro, a counselor at Mental Health Hub Kicukiro, nightmares are also known as dreams that are scary or disturbing. She says, the themes of nightmares vary widely from person-to-person, but common themes include being chased, falling, or feeling lost or trapped. Nightmares can cause you to feel various emotions, including anger, sadness, guilt, fear, and anxiety. You may even continue to experience these emotions even after you wake up. “Nightmares seem to be a part of normal development, and except in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they usually aren’t symptoms of any underlying medical condition or mental disorder,” she says. Nightmares may begin in children between three and six years old and tend to decrease after the age of 10. Photos: Net She notes however, that nightmares can become a problem if they persist and interrupt your sleep pattern. This can lead to insomnia and difficulty functioning during the day. Celestin Mutuyimana, a clinical psychologist in Kigali, also notes that dreams are part of profound sleep. It is the kind of processing humans have either in their conscious or unconscious memory (psychoanalysis theory). Therefore, people can get nightmares as a way of processing anxious or stressful bad memories. Causes Uwamahoro explains that nightmares can be triggered by a variety of factors, including, scary movies, books, or videogames, illness or fever but also, certain drugs and medications like using some types of illicit substances or prescription medications that affect the nervous system is associated with a higher risk of nightmares. Mutuyimana notes that people have nightmares more especially children, maybe because of their games, imagination, and they always don’t get the real image of things that can happen which are created by their own memories. “People with traumatic experiences are prone to have nightmares of the past encounters, this happens in disorders like post-traumatic stress, and generalized anxiety disorders. If you watch horror movies, there is also a possible of having nightmares,” he states. For Uwamahoro, mental health conditions can be the cause of nightmares as they are often reported at much higher rates by people with mental health disorders like depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. She states that people with Post-traumatic stress -PTSD often have frequent, intense nightmares in which they relive traumatic events, worsening symptoms of PTSD, and often contributing to insomnia, withdrawal from sleeping pills or narcotic pain medications. Sleep deprivation, the mental health counselor also notes that after a period of insufficient sleep, a person often experiences a sleep rebound that can trigger vivid dreams and nightmares, also, respiratory conditions, such as sleep apnea, may increase your risk of having night terrors. Symptoms Uwamahoro adds that once you scream or cry, stare blankly, thrash in bed, breathe rapidly, have an increased heart rate, be flushed and sweaty, seem confused, get up, jump on the bed, or run around the room, become aggressive if a partner or family member tries to keep you from running or jumping, then these are an indication of a nightmare. When to see a doctor “If nightmares happen more than once a week, affect your sleep, mood, or daily activity or when they begin at the same time that you start a new medication, it is high time you sought medical attention,” she says. Prevention The mental health counselor further explains that following a consistent sleep schedule helps keep your sleep stable, preventing sleep avoidance and nightmare-inducing sleep rebound after sleep deprivation. Uwamahoro adds that you can also create a comforting sleep environment. For instance, your bedroom should promote a sense of calm with as few distractions or disruptions as possible. Mutuyimana stresses that just as prevent your physical body from not being contaminated by disease, you also need to avert psyche for each negative or horrific thoughts as much as you can. Prevention, he says, is at three levels. For instance, the primary level requires you to prevent your brain from exposure to any kind of traumatic experiences like war, genocide, accidents, and horror movies, among others. He also notes that the secondary level calls for positive and quick management of emotions anytime you are exposed to such scenarios, but awareness raising is also key. Mutuyimana adds that effective treatment of people with traumatic experience, through disclosure of their experience and consistent therapy is necessary. He carries on that complications of nightmares cannot be complex as it is not a disorder but a symptom of disorders. Their frequent occurrence may explain the intensification of its cause behind that need to be explored. Uwamahoro says that a number of approaches utilize controlled exposure to that fear to reduce the emotional reaction to it. Examples of these techniques to “face your fears” include self-exposure therapy and systematic desensitization. She also says that the hypnosis approach can also do as it creates a relaxed, mental state in which a person can more easily take in positive thoughts to combat stress. “Progressive deep muscle relaxation, is another alternative, this involves deep breathing and a sequence of tension and release in muscles throughout the body. Relaxation methods like this are a tool developed in talk therapy to counteract stress buildup,” Uwamahoro states.