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Last Updated on January 11, 2021

The Scary Truth About Nightmare Disorder And Top Treatments that Work

The Scary Truth About Nightmare Disorder And Top Treatments that Work

Most of us have had the experience of deeply distressing nightmares that wake us up. But for those suffering symptoms of nightmare disorder, the experience can be terrifying, let alone the idea of falling asleep in the first place.

Untreated, nightmare disorder can have a significant, dastardly impact on our ability to just function normally, day to day. It’s not just about having a restless night’s sleep and struggling to get out of bed the next morning laden with fatigue.

If you suffer nightmare disorder, you often experience greater frequency of your nightmares either across different nights or as a sequence of disturbing dreams in the same night.

Fear and anxiety often wreak havoc on you emotionally, mentally and physically when trying to fall asleep, during and between your sleep cycles and also upon waking. You’re terrified of sleeping!

If you’re tired of experiencing no change even though you’ve reduced your alcohol intake, started exercising and have been going to bed earlier, there is help at hand.

Yes, physical changes you make can be extremely helpful (e.g. modifying your diet and eating plan, listening more to positive, inspiring audio books, music and podcasts, doing yoga) but you may be missing some key psychological strategies that can really help to kick your symptoms to the kerb.

How to know if I have nightmare disorder?

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders III provides minimum criteria to determine if individuals suffer from nightmare disorder described below:

a) Dreams are recurrent, clearly recalled and involve vividly feeling threats to survival, safety or physical integrity which often jolt you to awaken;

b) Upon wakening, you rapidly feel highly alert and become quickly oriented;

c) The nightmare itself or the sleep disturbance caused when awakening from it, causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning as indicated by experiencing at least one of the following:

Mood disturbance – emotions upon waking persist after the nightmare

The emotions aren’t vivid and distressing only during your nightmare. Even as you awaken they remain very real, are highly intense and usually contain intense levels of anger, fear, terror and/or sadness.

In fact the mood you experience can persist for awhile after you awake from the nightmare and the feeling is difficult to shake.

Dream recall is vivid

Many people find it difficult to recall their dreams upon waking even with making a concerted effort to do so.

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With nightmare disorder, dream recall is quick and vivid and there is little to no confusion about the details of the dream.

Falling asleep again is challenging

You can often suffer physical symptoms upon waking. Breathlessness, sweatiness and tightness in the chest can heighten your attention to remain awake.

Being unable to calm yourself physically and mentally makes falling asleep again not only difficult, but awfully frightening.

There also can remain the fear of re-entering the nightmare you’ve jolted awake from or re-experiencing the dream again.

You develop avoidant behaviors

Bedtime anxiety can become a common feature. A fear of the darkness associated with sleep time can also develop.

Social, interpersonal and occupational function starts to subside

Your ability to concentrate and focus at work or be fully present during social interactions starts to drop.

You might also start to feel silly and ashamed that you can’t ‘get over’ a silly nightmare.

Daytime sleepiness, fatigue and low energy

Your energy levels and fatigue can suffer from not getting enough of the right quality sleep, having incomplete sleep cycles and not getting enough cycles in the first place.

During the day you wake up groggy and feel like you’re dragging your feet to concentrate, focus and get anything done.

Other symptoms

In addition to the above, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) explains that a diagnosis of nightmare disorder is not catalyzed by the effect of medication nor drugs and also is not attributed to the presence of another mental disorder (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder). The DSM-V also indicates how severe a diagnosis might be pending the different time periods of experiencing the symptoms.

To gain an accurate diagnosis, work with a qualified, registered mental health professional. Explore your medical history, your previous and current use of drugs and medication, your previous sleep disturbances as well as presence of any similar sleep disturbance in your family and the experience of traumatic events and/or relationships.

Whilst there doesn’t yet exist a stand-alone diagnostic tool for nightmare disorder, there can be valuable clues in exploring these potential influences as well.

The Scary Truth About Untreated Nightmare Disorder

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 4 % of the population suffer from nightmare disorder.[1] Untreated, prolonged effects can lead to the development of anxiety and depressive disorders. For those who might already be suffering symptoms of these, it can worsen them.

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Whilst development of different types of insomnia, breathing problems such as asthma and snoring have been linked to nightmare disorder, one of the most alarming links is the likelihood of the disorder to suicidality. Studies have not only discovered relationships between nightmares and the presence of suicidal thoughts (ideation) but also suicide attempts.

For many, time is not on their side. Having suffered long enough, medication can be a quick and instant way to dampen and numb the symptoms and provide temporarily relief.

However, there are some incredibly effective psychological treatments that have not only helped restore an astonishing quality of slumber to sufferers but opened their gateway to rebuilding a remarkable quality of life.

5 Top Treatments to Turn Your Sleep Experience Around

If you don’t feel you have time on your side, you may wish to consult with a medical professional to explore medication that could provide instant relief.

Medication or not, the guidance of suitably trained and qualified mental health professionals can help you learn incredible strategies that will accelerate you back to experiencing a far better quality of life.

Let’s look at some of the top recommended strategies below.

1. Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT)

Image rehearsal is a great technique applied whilst you are awake. You write down your dream but change the theme, story line, ending, or any part of the dream to be a far more positive one.

In rewriting the dream scenario, you build in all the sensations, thoughts and emotions you want to experience instead. You are working to displace the distressing experiences you originally had with your newly orchestrated dream.

This technique works by challenging the traumatic theme of your original nightmare by injecting a cognitive shift. You choose and design the shift.

By then rehearsing this scenario for just 10 – 20 minutes a day, you can be on your way to greatly reducing your symptoms and enjoying a slumber journey to paradise as opposed to the Amityville Horror House.

2. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR combines elements from a number of different therapies. It has become a primary treatment for those suffering from nightmares connected with having experienced either a single traumatic event or multiple events over time.

Using an eight-step approach a therapist manually induces processing of disturbing memories and experiences by stimulating neural mechanisms similar to those activated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.[2]

During sessions, therapists direct clients to switch their eye movements to swing back and forth, left to right either following the therapists fingers (or some other object) whilst recalling the disturbed memory. Tones directed through headphones alternately into each ear might be used in similar fashion, or alternate physical taps to each hand.

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Clients identify and process the disturbed memory and past experience, current triggers and also positive experiences to develop a helpful adaptive response to the traumatic experience.

Even though EMDR is a highly effective treatment, there are pre-requisites for engaging this method and this process should only be applied by well-trained professionals who are licensed and qualified to administer it.

However, when you experience the benefits, not just your sleep but your quality life can turn around in a massive way!

3. Graded Exposure Therapy

Graded exposure therapy is also known as systematic desensitization. Once again it is best advised to undertake the first steps of this process with a qualified, trained professional.

With this method, you build resilience to the distressing parts of the nightmare through gradually exposing yourself to recalling the experience of it.

Re-experiencing the memory of the traumatic parts of the dream are identified and organized into a hierarchy of what is least distressing to what is most distressing. Working with parts you feel you can handle, you gradually expose yourself to the different parts of the nightmare memory and re-ignite the stressful emotions, thoughts and sensations one by one at a pace you can handle.

As you experience and learn that you are not in danger, your resilience builds and your fear of experiencing the nightmare again gradually drops.

Research has shown graded-exposure therapy to be helpful in reducing the frequency of nightmares but more effective when used in combination with progressive deep muscle relaxation (PDMR).

4. Progressive Deep Muscle Relaxation

Whilst research has shown that PDMR has been effective in reducing the frequency of nightmares, the technique has a wide range of uses in managing types of anxiety.

In itself, it is an incredible mental health and physical self-care strategy everyone can benefit from, nightmare disorder or not.

Working sequentially through the muscle groups in your body – from head to toe or in the reverse direction – you deliberately tense your muscles for a few seconds, then let the tension go and concentrate on how relaxed you feel for longer.

By deliberately telling your body to relax and increasing focus on how calm and relaxed you physically feel, you send messages to your brain to relax. Working through the muscle groups sequentially helps to pacify those of us who can get particularly wound up.

There are plenty of electronic apps you can access for free on your android phone or download to your iPod (e.g. Calm, Relax Lite). Guided PDMR (i.e. with instructions) is extremely helpful to start with. You surrender to the voice guiding you how and when to tense and relax each muscle group. By creating a deeply relaxed state just before falling sleep, you increase the potential for you to have a more pleasurable sleep experience.

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By getting started with PDMR straight away you not only have a tool to help you alleviate your nightmare symptoms, but a great relaxation technique to help you combat the challenges life throws at you.

Just be sure to consult a medical professional beforehand if you are recovering from an injury or could be at risk some other way. If so, whatever muscle groups could be affected, simply skip those and go on to the next ones.

5. Exposure, Relaxation and Re-scripting Therapy (ERRT)

ERRT is a combination of different steps targeting the anxiety symptoms that exist with the experience of nightmare disorder. If you’re not yet familiar with them, you’ll undertake an introduction to sleep hygiene practices.

Clearing out electronic devices from your bedroom, reducing your exposure to blue light from electronic tablets, television and android phones at least 1 ½ hours prior to wanting to fall asleep…..they all help to reduce symptoms of anxiety that can escalate your experiencing nightmares.

Looking at bedding and undertaking relaxing activities at night before bed time all contribute to creating blissful sleep opportunities.

Once you have your bedroom and pre-sleep activities sorted, you then apply the PDMR strategies which direct your focus on sensations of feeling completely relaxed. You are telling and preparing your mind and body to wind down and prepare for calm, serene sleep.

Looking at problem-solving, rescripting (similar to IRT) and coping strategies when you might awaken are all reviewed so you have an all round plan to (i) prepare your mind and body for sleep, (ii) help catalyze a far better dreaming experience and (iii) also have a plan of what to do when you awake suddenly.

The bottom line

Today might have been a wake-up call and you might have thought medication might be the only solution. You have been suffering and letting those symptoms rob you of your ability to rest, restore and regenerate your mind and body long enough.

If you have not been aware until now of the techniques and strategies above, make the decision today to get acquainted and consider undertaking an assessment with a mental health professional.

You might just turn the tables to discover a whole new lease on life!

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Helen D'Silva

Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Manage Anxiety: Sound Advice from a Mental Health Expert The Scary Truth About Nightmare Disorder And Top Treatments that Work How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

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Last Updated on March 3, 2021

Benefits of Water: Science-Backed Reasons to Stay Hydrated

Benefits of Water: Science-Backed Reasons to Stay Hydrated

You may already be aware that you should drink plenty of water each day, but do you know why? Yes, it’s true that you cannot stay alive for very long without drinking water, but keeping well hydrated is also essential for general day-to-day health and well-being. The benefits of water are endless, and H20 is probably even more important than you already realize.

This article will give you scientific and academically based benefits of water. By the end of this article, you will learn some great reasons to stay hydrated.

The Nutritional Value of Water

In terms of nutrition, plain water contains zero calories. This alone is a great reason to consume more of it.

Unlike almost every other consumable, water is not a source of carbohydrates, protein, or fat.[1] Its only function is to hydrate you, and you can drink plenty of it without worrying about any weight gain.

Often, when you feel hungry, it’s actually your body telling you that you need more water. Instead of reaching for a candy bar, try a glass of water first, and you may find that the hunger soon subsides.

5 Scientific Benefits of Water

Water has so many benefits for your health that it would be impossible to list all of them in this article. However, here are 5 science-backed benefits that water has for your health and why you should always stay properly hydrated.

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1. Keeps You at Peak Performance

Your physical performance can suffer if you don’t drink enough water. In fact, your physical performance can be severely impacted if you lose as little as 2% of your body’s water. The result of this can be things like fatigue, loss of body temperature control, less motivation, and lethargy. Exercise will feel a lot more difficult from a mental and physical perspective in this case.

On the other hand, studies show that a good level of hydration not only prevents the above from happening, but it may even reduce oxidative stress that comes with high intensity activities. This makes sense when you think about the fact that water makes up 80% of muscles.[2] So, stay well hydrated to remain at peak physical condition.

2. Improve Brain Function

Your level of hydration has a big impact on your brain function. Studies show that even a modest level of dehydration of 1-2% (of reduced water in the body) can impair many brain functions.[3] The fact that water can help you maintain focus and a good memory is just one of the many benefits of water.

This was highlighted in a study conducted with young women at the University of Connecticut. The research shows that women who had a fluid loss of 1.36% after exercise suffered from impaired concentration, poor mood, and had more headaches.[4]

A similar study involving young men also shows that a fluid loss of 1.59% increases feelings of fatigue and anxiety, and reduces working memory.

3. Prevent and Treat Headaches

This follows from the previous point that shows how important water is to brain function. Dehydration is usually the root cause of migraines in many people. However, beyond preventing dehydration, new studies show that drinking water can be an effective way of treating and even preventing headaches from happening in the first place.[5]

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4. Deliver Nutrients to Your Body

Although pure water does not contain any nutrients itself, it can absorb some minerals and deliver them to your body, which is one of the best benefits of water.[6] After a workout, water acts to help your muscles recover by delivering the right amount of nutrients at the right time. This is especially important at night as that’s when most of your muscle recovery happens.

Bottled mineral water can sometimes contain healthy minerals that your body needs like sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Just make sure you read the label to learn the exact mineral content of your bottled mineral water.

5. Regulates Body Temperature

Water is excellent at absorbing and transferring heat in your body. In fact, it is the primary way that the human body is able to regulate its temperature.

Water has a relatively high heat capacity, so the water in every cell of your body can work as a shield against sudden temperature changes.[7]This is also the reason why professionals always recommend you drink plenty of water in hot climates.

How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day?

Now that you understand why you should drink more water, the next question is how much you need in order to receive the benefits of water. The Internet is full of uneducated responses regarding the amounts of water you need to keep your body functioning properly, and the most common response is the un-scientific 8 cups a day rule.

However, most scientists and health professionals agree that it’s much better to drink according to your gender, weight, level of physical activity, and climate. Read this article to know how much water you should be drinking each day: How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day (and How Much Is Too Much for You)

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The simple rule of thumb is to drink when you feel thirsty. Your body has evolved complex mechanisms in your brain and body to send signals when your body needs more fluid intake. Learn to listen to your thirst, and you’ll be well on your way to drinking enough water.

How to Drink More Water

After working out how much water you should drink in a day, you might discover that you’re not drinking enough. If this is the case, you will need to find new ways to drink more water each day. For instance, you can eat water-rich fruits, like watermelons, and make new hydration habits, like drinking a cup of water before each meal or carrying a water bottle with you to work.

If you’ve been trying to develop healthy habits like this one but can’t get past your procrastination, check out Lifehack’s Fast-Track Class: No More Procrastination.

If you need help to get you to drink more water, you can also check out the 3 Best Apps To Help You Drink Much More Water.

You can even eat your water from these fruits and vegetables:[8]

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Ways to eat your water

    Conclusion

    Water is essential to a properly functioning body. You should proactively try to keep yourself well hydrated in order to receive the many benefits of water.

    Hydration is not the only benefit of water you will experience from maintaining a good level of daily water intake. Water can help you stay at a peak physical condition, maintain brain function, prevent headaches, and regulate your body temperature.

    Make sure you drink enough water each day to enjoy all the amazing health benefits that water has to offer.

    More on Good Hydration and Nutrition

    Featured photo credit: Nigel Msipa via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Beverage Impacts on Health and Nutrition: The Nutritional Value of Bottled Water
    [2] Sports Medicine: Hydration and Muscular Performance
    [3] The British Journal of Nutrition: Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men
    [4] The Journal of Nutrition: Dehydration Affects Mood In Healthy Young Women
    [5] Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice: Increased water intake to reduce headache: learning from a critical appraisal
    [6] Livestrong: Nutritional Value of Water
    [7] Sciencing: How Does Water Stabilize Temperature?
    [8] Skinny Ms: 21 Ways to Eat Your Water

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