A friend recently told me that her husband has nightmares several times a week, during which he tosses and turns with a look of concern on his face.

Her dilemma: Should she wake him from these disturbing dreams or let them run their course? And does he need to see a sleep specialist and/or a mental health professional? To get some guidance for my friend, I called Dr. Barry Krakow, founder and medical director of Maimonides International Nightmare Treatment Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ARE NIGHTMARES HEALTHY?

About half of all adults have occasional nightmares—unpleasant dreams that cause strong negative responses, such as fear, horror, anxiety or sadness, said Dr. Krakow. Why? Nightmares often help dreamers understand upsetting events of the day and their emotional responses to them. Therefore, occasional nightmares are usually healthy, according to Dr. Krakow. But sometimes nightmares can be unhealthy. And when they become unhealthy, you may need to wake the sleeper and/or refer him or her to a sleep specialist and/or a mental health professional. To learn how to tell the difference, here’s the first question to ask yourself…

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