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How to Stop Nightmares

by BetterSleep
Jul 8 • 2 min read

No one enjoys having a nightmare. Nightmares can be scary and upsetting, and those feelings can persist after you’ve woken up, making it more difficult to fall back asleep. Occasional nightmares are normal, even for adults, but even the occasional nightmare can be disruptive. Try a few of these tips to reduce nightmare frequency for better, more restful sleep.

What Are Nightmares?

A nightmare is any dream that is frightening or disturbing. What might be terrifying for one person is less so for another. Some typical themes for nightmares include being chased, feeling trapped, or falling.

All nightmares elicit negative emotions: fear, anxiety, stress, anger, sadness, guilt, and shame. For many people, the feelings from a nightmare persist after waking. Children are at greater risk for having nightmares, but they can occur at any age.

What Causes Nightmares?

No one knows for sure what causes nightmares. There are definite risk factors that may contribute to having bad dreams:

  • For Kids. Triggers for nightmares in children include stress and being overtired, trauma, and certain medications.
  • For Teens. The frequency of nightmares generally reduces as children become adolescents. Causes for ongoing bad dreams in teens include stress and medications. Other factors include emotional issues, major life changes, and drug or alcohol use.
  • For Adults. Some of the most common causes of nightmares for adults include anxiety, stress, trauma, sleep deprivation, medications, alcohol withdrawal, sleep apnea, food before bed, and sleep disorders.

How Nightmares Affect Your Sleep

Having a nightmare leads to sleep fragmentation. In other words, it disrupts your night of sleep. If you wake up for another reason, you may be able to drift back to sleep relatively quickly. However, the lingering emotions of a nightmare are more likely to keep you awake longer.

Nightmare disorder is a very rare condition that causes frequent, distressing dreams most nights. This disorder is very disruptive to sleep, causing insomnia, daytime tiredness, fatigue, and difficulty functioning normally.

How to Prevent Nightmares

If nightmares trouble you regularly and impact your sleep significantly, see your doctor. Medication, an underlying sleep disorder, or other issue could be at the root of the problem. Addressing this will help reduce the frequency of nightmares.

You can also try these tips, lifestyle changes, and healthy habits to reduce nightmares and make them less disruptive:

  • Be physically active daily or work out at least three times per week.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can disrupt your sleep.
  • Limit stimulating activities before bed, especially screen time or watching disturbing or scary shows and movies.
  • Avoid sedatives or tranquilizers.
  • Use relaxation techniques before bed, like meditation or yoga.
  • Develop a healthy bedtime routine that you find relaxing, and that gets you to bed at the same time every night.
  • A therapist can help you talk through your nightmares and use guided imagery to help gain control over nightmares.

An occasional nightmare is normal, but don’t ignore them if they regularly interrupt your sleep. Try the above tips, focus on managing stress and anxiety, and talk to your doctor if things don’t improve.

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