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Health Forum Online    The Psychologist's Source for C.E. Credits Online

Sleep Disorders: Distressing Dreams and Nightmares from Childhood to Old Age - When to Worry about Them and How to Intervene

by Patrick McNamara, PhD 2 CE Credits

Distressing dreams and nightmares are common in childhood, decline in the middle years, and increase again in old age. Their presence can diminish the quality of sleep and increase daytime anxiety. Clinical treatment should be considered when they become frequent or recurrent to avoid deleterious effects on health. Moreover, it is vitally important that patients with recurrent distressing dreams and nightmares receive a neuropsychiatric work-up as recurrent nightmares may be associated with posttraumatic stress disorder and, in the elderly, they may herald the onset of a neurodegenerative disorder. This course reviews the biologic mechanisms of distressing dreams and nightmares, their clinical correlates and their potential for harm. Evidence-based treatment strategies to manage recurrent nightmares are reviewed including cognitive-behavioral approaches and an emerging pharmacologic option.


This online course is approved for APA CE credit, NBCC CE clock hours and ASWB Clinical CE clock hours. NYSED CEs are NOT approved for this online course.


Course Sections/Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Definition and Diagnostic Criteria
  • Prevalence
  • Biologic Mechanisms of Recurrent Nightmares
  • Clinical Correlates of the Nightmare
  • Disorders Associated with Nightmares
  • Underlying Theories
  • Assessment and Treatment
  • Summary
  • References

Learning Objectives:

After completing this course, health professionals will be able to:
  • Articulate diagnostic criteria from three major sources for nightmare-related sleep disorder along with its prevalence.
  • Recognize two major biobehavioral correlates of distressing dreams and nightmares to enable a distinction between “normal” vs pathological development.
  • Name two validated assessment tools to assist with diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • Identify two evidence-based interventions to facilitate patient adjustment.