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What causes recurring nightmares? © Getty Images

What causes recurring nightmares?

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Frequently having recurring bad dreams can be a sign of a serious underlying problem.

Asked by: Louise Carr, Exeter


Approximately 2 to 5 per cent of the population suffers from recurring nightmares, and often the reason is that they have survived some kind of life-threatening situation, such as a car accident or a violent attack. Indeed, one study estimated that between 50 to 70 per cent of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience chronic nightmares.

Other psychiatric conditions associated with an increased risk of experiencing frequent nightmares include schizophrenia, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse. Among people without a psychiatric diagnosis, a dream diary study from 2003 found that nightmares were experienced more often at times of stress.


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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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