Here's why you might be having the same nightmare over and over again (2023)

if we think about itNightmaresWe often associate these nightmares with children who are afraid of monsters under the bed or things lurking in the dark. But adults also often have nightmares. And sometimes they repeat.

A recurring nightmare is defined as an unpleasant dream that recurs continuously over a long period of time.

Maybe you dream of being attacked once a week. Or maybe your nightmare is of a loved one involved in an accident and you experience it every time you fall asleep.

Whatever type of recurring nightmare you have, waking up scared is a terrible feeling. And falling asleep can be even scarier when you know you're likely to have another nightmare.

Fortunately, understanding your recurring nightmares can be the first step in resolving them.

Possible causes

Although dreams have long fascinated people, little is known about why we do it.Sound🇧🇷 And there is little consensus on whether dreams havedeeper meanings.

Even less is known about nightmares. While some researchers believe that nightmares stem from chemical imbalances in the brain, others believe that they stem from deep-seated problems.traumatic experiences🇧🇷 And yet, some believe that nightmares are simply a sign of vivid imagination.

So why would someone have a recurring nightmare? There are a few possible reasons.

Unmet psychological needs

Some researchers believe that recurring nightmares stem from unmet psychological needs, such as autonomy, competence, and connection. These unmet needs can lead to recurring dreams and, in some cases, recurring nightmares as the person tries to process and integrate these experiences.

substances and drugs

Medicines, drugs, and alcohol can affect the chemicals in the brain and make it more likely that you will have nightmares. Studies have found that tranquilizers, beta-blockers, and amphetamines are particularly likely to cause nightmares. In some cases, substance withdrawal can also lead to recurring nightmares.


Nightmares are one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. They often involve reliving the same trauma suffered in real life (although they also don't seem to be related to any specific real-life trauma).

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a mental disorder characterized by problems with self-image, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and an unstable relationship pattern. About 49% of people with borderline personality disorder report nightmares.

nightmare disorder

Some people with recurring nightmares may qualify for a diagnosis of nightmare disorder. Nightmare disorder is a mental illness characterized by:

  • Recurrent episodes of well-remembered dreams, usually related to efforts to avoid threats to survival or bodily integrity.
  • Quick vigilance when waking up from the nightmare.
  • Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning

To meet the criteria for a diagnosis, the symptoms cannot be explained by amood-altering substance.

Common Nightmare Themes

While nightmares can be about anything, researchers have found that nightmares share some common themes.

A 2018 study looked at common nightmares in children. The researchers found that children's nightmares were often related to being followed, physically assaulted, killed or injured by a loved one.

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A 2014 study published inTO SLEEPdiscovered that adult nightmares are often similar. After analyzing more than 10,000 dreams, the researchers found that most nightmares involved some form of physical assault. Ill health, death, and threats were also common.

Researchers have discovered that anxiety is not always part of nightmares. Sadness, confusion, guilt, and disgust were often present.

Big recurring nightmares can overwhelm you

Someone who has never had recurring nightmares might think, "It's just a nightmare. So what?" But anyone who has experienced recurring nightmares knows that they can seriously affect their emotional, physical, professional, and social well-being.

Nightmares can affect your romantic relationships. It can be hard sharing a bed with someone when you know you might wake up screaming and in a cold sweat.

You may also be tired at work because you woke up with nightmares several times the night before. As a result, his productivity may be affected.

You may also have a harder time controlling your emotions or even your appetite when you don't sleep well.

These are just some of the difficulties you may experience as a result of recurring nightmares. Here's what the research says about recurring nightmares and the toll they can take:

  • suicide connection. A 2014 study found a link between recurring nightmares and suicide in war veterans.A 2017 study found that recurring nightmares are associated with nonsuicidal self-harm in college students.
  • sleep deprivation🇧🇷 What separates nightmares from nightmares is the fact that nightmares tend to wake people up. They also tend to make it harder to get back to sleep, which can lead to sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a wide range of physical health problems and emotional consequences, ranging from increased risk of depression to obesity.
  • humor🇧🇷 Nightmares have also been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.


If you have recurring nightmares, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may want to perform a complete physical exam to rule out possible medical reasons for the nightmares. Your doctor may also recommend a referral to a therapist, who can help improve your sleep, address underlying mental health issues, and ease your nightmares.

Treatment for recurring nightmares depends on the cause. Sometimes they can be reduced with some lifestyle changes.

At other times, changes in medication may be necessary. A doctor can prescribe a medication that relieves nightmares or change the one that contributes to them.

Therapy can also be helpful. Therapists often use exposure therapy for treatmentforeseen, and this can reduce recurring nightmares.

Therapists can also use exposure therapy to face nightmares head on. This can include talking about the nightmares and finding healthy ways to deal with the distress they cause.

Different types of psychotherapy may also be effective in reducing recurring nightmares, even when the cause of the nightmares is unknown. Therapists may ask people to write down their dreams, relate them to different aspects of their dreams, or ask them to find alternative endings to their nightmares.

A word from Verywell

If you're dealing with a recurring nightmare, don't be afraid to ask for help. Talking with your doctor or therapist may be the key to a better recovery. A few simple changes to your life or solving a specific problem can help you get over a nightmare once and for all.

11 fuentes

Verywell Mind only uses quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. read ourpublishing processto learn more about how we verify our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Weinstein N., Campbell R., Vansteenkiste M.Linking experiences of psychological needs with everyday and recurring dreams.motivation and emotions. 2017;42(1):50-63. doi:10.1007/s11031-017-9656-0

  2. Thompson DF, Pierce DR.drug induced nightmares.Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 1999;33(1):93-98. doi:10.1345/aph.18150

  3. Levin R, Nielsen TA.Disturbed dreams, post-traumatic stress disorder and affective stress: a review and a neurocognitive model.Psychological Newsletter. 2007;133(3):482-528. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.3.482

  4. Semiz UB, Basoglu C, Ebrinc S, Cetin M.Disorder of nightmares, dream anxiety and subjective sleep quality in patients with borderline personality disorder.Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. 2008;62(1):48-55. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1819.2007.01789.x

  5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association.SpringerReferencia. doi:10.1007/springerreference_179660

  6. Schredl M, Göritz AS.Nightmare Problems: An Online Study of Recent and Childhood Nightmares.Clinical Sleep Medicine Journal. 2018;14(03):465-471. doi:10.5664/jcsm.7002

  7. Robert G., Zadra A.Thematic and content analysis of nightmares and idiopathic sleep. 2014;37(2):409-417. doi:10.5665/sleep.3426

  8. N. Sandman, K. Valli, E. Kronholm, E. Vartiainen, T. Laatikainen, T. Paunio.Nightmares as predictors of suicide: an extension study with war veterans.scientific reports. 2017;7(1). doi:10.1038/srep44756

  9. Ennis CR, Short NA, Moltisanti AJ, Smith CE, Joiner TE, Taylor J.Nightmares and non-suicidal self-harm: the mediating role of emotional dysregulation.Comprehensive Psychiatry. 2017;76:104-112. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2017.04.003

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  10. Zadra A, Pilon M, Donderi DC.Variety and intensity of emotions in nightmares and bad dreams..Das Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases. 2006;194(4):249-254. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000207359.46223.dc

  11. Blagrove M., Farmer L., Williams E.The relationship between the frequency of nightmares and the stress of nightmares with well-being.sleep research journal. 2004;13(2):129-136. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2004.00394.x

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Here's why you might be having the same nightmare over and over again (1)

VonAmy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. She is also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk of hers, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, is one of the most watched talks of all time.

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