Three nightmare types are biologically and psychologically very different!
True Nightmares – Sometimes called “dream anxiety attacks,” are long, vivid, frightening dreams that awaken the sleeper and often can be clearly recalled. They usually occur late during sleep, between 3:00 am and 7:00 am and at the end of a long REM-period. (REM refers to Rapid Eye Movement)
Night Terrors – Sometimes called an “incubus attack” or “terror attack” the most common vocalization is simply a scream. The sleeper does not remember a dream but sometimes remembers feeling crushed or suffocated. She or he either remembers nothing at all or simply recalls waking in fright. Night terrors occur early in sleep during the first Non-REM deep sleep period. Most common in children ages 3 to 6. Although many people “grow out of it,” some people continue having night terrors for years, even throughout their life. (For more information: www.nightterrors.org)
PTSD Nightmares or Post-traumatic nightmares include content involving a trauma such as familiar scenes or action. Free association is seldom free. The dreamer is led straight back to the trauma or to fears of a very primitive kind. (For more information: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/nightmares.asp)
Some factors that seem to contribute to nightmare frequency: illness (especially fever), stress, troubled relationships and traumatic events.
Drugs and medications can cause an increase in nightmares. Drugs that suppress REM sleep produce a later effect of REM-rebound. To make up for the lost REM time, dreams are more intense than usual for the last few hours of sleep time. Other drugs increase the activity of some part of the REM system. Among these are l-DOPA used in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, and beta-blockers used to treat heart conditions.
Journal to Transform your True Nightmare.
Rewrite your nightmare in the 3rd person: instead of saying, “I dreamed…..” replace that with “she/he dreamed….”
Rewrite your nightmare as a Fairy Tale starting with something like “Long ago in a far off country, a princess lived …..” and use dramatic over-the-top exaggerations of events and descriptions in the dream
Change the ending of your nightmare to one that feels less threatening or feels good
You may see results right away. But if not, continue to use these journaling techniques and talk about your nightmare with a trusted person in a safe setting. I have seen instances in which people completely stop having the nightmare, even those that had been reoccurring over years.
For Night Terrors and PTSD Nightmares check out the links above and seek appropriate help.