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  1. Thomas C. Neylan

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0606

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Neylan, T. C. 2010. Nightmares. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. University of California, San Francisco

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Nightmares are defined as disturbing dreams associated with anxiety or fear that result in an awakening from sleep. The subject usually is readily aroused to full alertness and is able to recall much of the content of the dream. This distinguishes nightmares from night terrors, which are associated with a prolonged transition to wakefulness and scant recall of dream narrative. Although nightmares are featured prominently in literature and descriptive psychoanalytic writings, there is limited empirical research on this phenomenon. This fact is driven in part by pragmatic scientific limitations that make it difficult to observe neurocognitive events during the actual dream. Dreams can only be recalled following an awakening, and the fidelity of recall is not known. For example, it is possible that dream recall is limited to dream events occurring in the immediate period just prior to arousal. Further, dream recall is subject to retrieval biases in which the subject imposes order on what has been a chaotic mental experience.