Hi I'm Dr Chi-Chi Obuaya, consultant psychiatrist. I get lots of questions about nightmares and nightmares are quite tricky for us to address as psychiatrists.
I think it's really important to emphasise that nightmares in and of themselves are not what we call pathological: they don't signify that there's definitely a mental health difficulty. Anybody can experience nightmares, and we don't fully understand what's going on when we're sleeping and why people have particular dreams or nightmares.
What we do know is that when people have had very significant stressful experiences, they might have specific nightmares in which they relive that difficult episode. And if that's occurring, there'll be other things going on. So very heightened anxiety levels and it's likely that you won't be able to go about your day to day activities as you normally would. And that certainly requires input from a medical professional because it might signify what we call post-traumatic stress disorder.
But for the vast majority of people, we don't fully understand why those nightmares occur. There are lots of different types of doctors and therapists and psychologists and there are some therapists who may take a particular interest in exploring the meaning of dreams and nightmares so I certainly don't want to diminish their perspective on this. However, as a psychiatrist, I would argue that we need to be careful not to draw very firm conclusions about why specific nightmares are occurring or trying to necessarily interpret what's going on.
So the key message is, nightmares are very common, they don't signify that there's a mental illness and often we don't need to do anything about them. There's no specific treatment but there are specific types of nightmares if something very traumatic has happened, that do warrant a bit more attention.