Chronic Nightmares in College Students: Causes and Treatments
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Do you experience intense nightmares on a frequent basis? If you are experiencing chronic nightmares, they could be a symptom of a mental health disorder. College students, like other adults, tend to experience bad dreams on occasion. If you are having nightmares every night, though, there is likely an underlying reason. Addressing your nightmares is essential. For many people, recurring nightmares worsen other mental health symptoms. If you have trouble concentrating, for example, losing sleep every night can make focusing even more difficult. To avoid a feedback loop where your symptoms cause each other to intensify, it is important to address your symptoms directly. Getting an understanding of what might be triggering your nightmares can be a great first step toward treatment and long-term recovery.

Potential triggers for chronic nightmares

  • Stressful circumstances — College life is sometimes overwhelming. With deadlines, exams and social pressures looming, you might experience a lot of stress while in college. This stress may get worse during especially intense periods of coursework. According to one study, stress levels in university students peak during the final exam period. If stress is preoccupying your mind, it can lead to nightmares when you try to rest. To address stress-related sleep disturbances, it can help to seek on-campus mental health resources. Psychotherapy can also be highly beneficial. By equipping you with effective coping mechanisms, process-based therapy (PBT) can help you manage your stress in a healthy way. PBT is a fully personalized framework using the most effective aspects of evidence-based modalities, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) as well as compassion-based and somatic therapies, to target the drivers behind mental health disorders and symptoms. With PBT, you can treat your nightmares by addressing their root causes.
  • Anxiety — Do you have an anxiety disorder? If so, your nightmares could be a symptom of your anxiety. Conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can increase the frequency of bad dreams. These bad dreams may center around subjects you are anxious about in your waking life, such as uncomfortable social situations. One study found that 21.6% of people with GAD experience bad dreams on at least a weekly basis compared to only 6.4% of those without GAD. If your dreams are related to your anxiety, then addressing your anxiety can be a great way to reduce the frequency of your nightmares.
  • Trauma — Are your nightmares related to a traumatic event or series of events from your past? If so, these nightmares could be a way your mind is processing trauma. Nightmares are a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to nightmares, people with PTSD often experience other difficulties related to sleeping. If you have PTSD, you may have trouble conforming to a regular sleep schedule. Insomnia is also common. For people with PTSD, personalized mental health treatment is important. Psychotherapy and other specialized treatments can help you process your trauma in a healthy way and alleviate your chronic nightmares.
  • Depression Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a leading mental health disorder among college students. In addition to other symptoms such as persistent sadness and loss of motivation, MDD can contribute to chronic nightmares. If you have depression, your nightmares may exacerbate your other symptoms. With the right mental health treatment plan, you can address your symptoms directly and find a path toward peaceful sleep.
  • Current events — Current events can have a profound effect on your mental state. College students often feel compelled to stay politically engaged. For many people, this means facing a constant bombardment of negative news stories and stressful events such as upcoming elections. One study shows that politics and current events most significantly affect the mental health of people between the ages of 11 and 24. While it can be important to stay in the loop, your mental well-being is important too. The mental effects of current events can affect you while you are asleep as well as awake. During tumultuous times, you might start having bad dreams more frequently. Taking steps such as limiting your social media intake can be a great way to reduce your stress while also staying engaged. 

Address your nightmares with guidance from Lightfully U

Lightfully U can help you find a long-term solution to your nightmares. With treatment from our deeply compassionate mental health experts, you can experience the benefits of psychotherapy and a range of other treatment strategies. Our holistic approach to care addresses each client as a whole person rather than a set of diagnoses. This enables us to delve deeper and provide treatment tailored to your specific individual needs. With our help, you can start addressing your nightmares to get more comforting, restful sleep.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to find a solution to your nightmares, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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