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How to Stop Nightmares

by BetterSleep
Jul 8 • 12 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 of 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 include anxiety, stress, trauma, sleep deprivation, medications, alcohol withdrawal, sleep apnea, food before bed, and sleep disorders. In some cases, psychological stress stemming from posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD) triggers chronic nightmares. Research found that up to 96% of posttraumatic stress disorder sufferers can suffer from nightmares. PSTD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event, such as combat, a natural disaster, or a violent attack.

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 issues 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:

Limit alcohol and caffeine

It is best to avoid drinking alcohol before bed. Alcoholic beverages can cause restless sleep and frequent awakenings, which may lead to remember nightmares. Instead, try herbal teas or other sleep-inducing beverages.

You should also create a relaxing bedtime routine that does not involve drinking if drinking is your major relaxation routine. Chatting with your partner or reading before bed can help you relax and fall asleep more easily.

Don’t dine before bed

If you’ve ever tried to sleep after eating a large meal, you know that it can be difficult to drift off. That’s because when you eat, your body’s metabolism increases in order to break down the food. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this can lead to more restless sleep and even nightmares.

While some people find that a light snack before bed helps them sleep better, it’s generally best to avoid eating for two to three hours before lying down. If you find that you often have nightmares after eating late at night, try avoiding snacks or heavier meals before bedtime. By following these simple tips, you can get a better night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested.

Limit screen time and stimulating activities like scary contents

Our dreams can be powerfully affected by what we do before bed. If we watch a scary movie or read the news that leaves us feeling disturbed and upset, we are more likely to have disturbing and upsetting dreams.

On the other hand, if we spend some time engaging with emotionally neutral or positive things, we are more likely to have peaceful dreams. This is especially important during the pandemic, when our everyday lives are looking pretty scary. By taking some time to relax and focus on positive things before bed, we can help ensure our dreams will be more peaceful.

Avoid sedatives or tranquilizers

There are a few different medications that can cause nightmares or bad dreams. The most common are sedatives or tranquilizers, which affect the brain chemicals that help you move through the different stages of sleep. Antidepressants, beta-blockers, and even some over-the-counter cold medicines can also have this effect. If you’re taking any of these medications and having nightmares, talk to your doctor about changing your dosage or switching to a different drug. There are usually other options that don’t have this side effect. In some cases, simply reducing the dose can help.

Practice relaxation techniques before bed, like meditation or yoga

Meditation and yoga are two popular relaxation techniques that can be effectively used to reduce nightmares. Sometimes, meditation is the sleep medicine that many people need.

Research has shown that nightmares activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s natural response to imminent danger. However, the body also has an innate relaxation system known as the parasympathetic nervous system. Progressive muscle relaxation and other relaxation activities can help activate that system.

In addition, progressive muscle relaxation has been shown to be effective in reducing tension, which can be helpful in reducing nightmares. This technique involves tensing muscle groups as you inhale and relaxing them as you exhale.

By using these techniques before bed, you can help reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares.

Develop a healthy bedtime routine

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares. This means going to, and waking up at the same time, each day and aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

The theory is that by keeping your body on a regular sleep schedule, you are less likely to experience the types of sleep deprivation and insomnia that have been associated with an increased risk of nightmares.

Of course, we all have nights where we don’t get enough sleep, but if you can stick to a regular routine as much as possible, you may be less likely to have bad dreams.

Another tip is to put away electronic devices 30 minutes before bed, or reading a few chapters of your book—can help make drifting off to sleep easier. Sweet dreams!

Journal your worries

It’s no secret that worry can take a toll on our mental and physical health. According to the National Institutes of Health, chronic stress can lead to a variety of health problems, including anxiety, insomnia, and heart disease.

One of the best ways to combat worry is to journal your worries. By getting all of your worries down on paper, you can take a step back and assess them more objectively.

Additionally, journaling can help to alleviate nightmares and stress in general. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by worry, grab a pen and paper and let it all out. You may be surprised at how much better you feel afterward.

Create a happy ending

Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique used to improve sleep by reducing the frequency and intensity of chronic nightmares.

IRT involves writing down the narrative elements of a nightmare and then rewriting the dream so that it ends positively. This practice helps to break the cycle of nightmares by teaching the brain new, more positive dream narratives.

Studies have shown that IRT is most effective when chronic nightmares show similar themes and patterns. As such, this technique may not be suitable for everyone.

In other words, you are training your brain to react differently to the stimulus of a nightmare. And over time, with enough practice, your brain will respond accordingly.

So if you find yourself plagued by chronic nightmares, give imagery rehearsal therapy a try. It just might help you get some much-needed rest.

Check your mental health

If you regularly have nightmares, it may be worth checking in with mental health professionals to see if there is an underlying issue like PSTD or mood disorder that can be treated.

It’s possible that an underlying mental health issue is causing your nightmares, and if that’s the case, treatment can help relieve the nightmares and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Talk to someone about your dreams

Many people suffer from nightmares, but few people talk about them. This can be because they are embarrassed, or they may not want to worry their loved ones.

However, talking about your nightmares can be helpful in reducing their frequency. When you have a nightmare, try to remember as much detail as possible and then find someone you trust to discuss it with.

Explain why the dream was upsetting and see if they have any suggestions for how to deal with it. You may also find it helpful to keep a dream journal, but be aware that this can sometimes make the nightmares feel more real.

Remember that you are not alone in this and that many people suffer from similar problems. Talking about your nightmares is a good first step in dealing with them.

Talk to a therapist

It’s normal to have an occasional nightmare, but it’s time to take action if they’re starting to interfere with your sleep. Therapists can treat nightmare disorders and help you take control of your dreams using guided imagery and therapy.

With guided imagery, you focus on positive images and peaceful scenes to relax your mind and body. This can help you feel more in control of your dreams and reduce the frequency of nightmares.

A therapist can help you talk through your nightmares and explore the emotions and memories that may be causing them. If stress or anxiety is triggering your nightmares, a therapist can also teach you coping and relaxation techniques to help manage these emotions. Don’t ignore your nightmares; talk to your doctor or a therapist to gain control over them.

Can Nightmares Cause Mental Illness?

Mental illness is a complex and serious issue, and there is still much we don’t understand about it. However, researchers have found that there may be a link between nightmares and mental illness.

People who experience frequent nightmares are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s thought that the stress of having nightmares can trigger or worsen these conditions. In addition, the fear and isolation people often feel after a nightmare can lead to further mental health problems.

If you’re struggling with recurrent nightmares, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. With treatment, you can learn to manage your condition and reduce the risk of developing mental illness.

How Do Nightmares Affect my Mental Health

Nightmares are more than just bad dreams- they can significantly affect your health and well-being. People who experience nightmares are more likely to be anxious or depressed and, as a result, suffer more psychological ill effects.

Nightmares have also been associated with suicide, although the relationship is not fully understood. If you suffer from recurrent nightmares, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.

With treatment, you can learn to manage the symptoms and reduce the impact that nightmares have on your life.

Can You Have Nightmares in the Day?

Dreams generally occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, when the brain is most active. Most people dream for around two hours each night, though the length and frequency of dreams can vary depending on factors like age and sleep cycles.

It’s technically possible to have a nightmare at any time of day, though they are most common at night. Night terrors, on the other hand, usually occur during the non-REM stage of sleep (which is earlier in the sleep cycle than REM), and can be more likely to happen in young children.

Night terrors tend to be shorter and less vivid than nightmares, and the person experiencing them may not remember them afterward.

However, both nightmares and night terrors can be unsettling experiences that can disrupt sleep. If you’re concerned about either of these types of dreams, it’s best to talk to a doctor or sleep specialist.

What are the Common Themes in Nightmares?

Although various factors can trigger nightmares, some common themes repeatedly crop up.

According to psychology researcher Geneviève Robert, these themes include death, health concerns, and threats. She adds that men tend to have more disaster-related scenarios such as floods, earthquakes, and war.

However, women’s narratives are typically centered around interpersonal conflicts. These findings suggest that our darkest fears often revolve around things that we perceive as being outside of our control.

Whether it’s worrying about an impending natural disaster or fearing for our own safety, it seems that we are often most afraid of the things we can’t change or don’t have power over.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Nightmares and Dreams the Same Thing?

Dreams and nightmares are both experienced during REM sleep, but they have different effects on the sleeper. Dreams are generally positive or neutral experiences that can be forgotten soon after waking up. Nightmares, on the other hand, are negative experiences that can cause fear and anxiety. They often occur when a person is under stress or experiencing trauma.

While dreams can be pleasant or mundane, nightmares tend to be vivid and deeply unsettling. As a result, many people try to avoid having nightmares by sleeping in a comfortable environment and avoiding stress before bedtime. However, some experts believe that nightmares may serve a purpose by helping people process difficult emotions. Whether they are helpful or not, nightmares are a sure sign that the brain is active during sleep.

Are Nightmares a Disorder?

It’s estimated that between 50 and 60 percent of the population experiences nightmares. While most people have the occasional bad dream, some suffer from chronic and recurring nightmares that can significantly impact their quality of life.

Nightmares are considered parasomnia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Parasomnias are disruptive sleep disorders that can cause a person to act out physically during sleep. Nightmare disorder is a parasomnia that causes a person to have extremely upsetting dreams that may involve themes of danger, fear, or feelings of helplessness. The dreamer may wake up feeling terrified and may be unable to return to sleep. Sometimes, the dreamer may experience physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, or difficulty breathing.

Nightmare disorder can occur at any age but is more common in children and young adults. It is often associated with other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Treatment for nightmare disorder typically includes behavioral therapy and medication. Some people may also find relief with relaxation techniques or hypnosis.

How are Nightmare Disorders Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a nightmare disorder is usually based on your account of the events. Your doctor may interview you or your spouse about your sleeping habits and consider other sleep disorders if they are present. One key factor in diagnosing a nightmare disorder is differentiating it from other types of parasomnias, such as night terrors and sleepwalking. A person with a nightmare disorder usually has a detailed recollection of their nightmare, whereas a person with a night terror may only remember feeling frightened or sensations of paralysis.

Sleepwalking is characterized by complex behaviors that occur during deep sleep, such as walking around and talking. In contrast, people with a nightmare disorder are usually able to recall their dream vividly and often feel paralyzed or trapped in their dream. If you think you might have a nightmare disorder, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and concerns.

Is it OK to Wake Someone Up from a Nightmare?

It’s a nightmare. You see your bedmate thrashing, moaning, and crying out in terror. Do you wake him up? There’s no easy answer, but new research suggests it might be best to let him sleep it off. Bad dreams can also serve an important purpose: They help us process difficult emotions and sort through problems we’re facing in real life.

However, if you see the person lashes out or appears to be in danger by attempting anything physically dangerous to himself, it’s best to intervene. So next time you’re tempted to wake someone from a bad dream, consider letting him finish his REM cycle. He (and you) may be better off for it in the long run.

Why Do Nightmares Wake You Up?

Most people have had a nightmare at some point in their lives. These bad dreams can be incredibly vivid and realistic, often leaving us feeling shaken and disturbed. But why do nightmares wake us up? It turns out that there are a few different reasons why this happens. One possibility is that nightmares occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep when our brains are more active and are more likely to dream.

Since our bodies are paralyzed during REM sleep, we may wake up in order to prevent ourselves from acting out the dream. Another possibility is that the emotional content of the nightmare is just too much for us to handle while asleep, and so we rouse ourselves in order to escape the nightmare. Whatever the reason, nightmares can be quite upsetting. But thankfully, they usually don’t last long, and we can always go back to sleep once they’re over.

Can You be Trapped in a Dream?

Many people have experienced the sensation of being paralyzed in their sleep. This phenomenon, known as sleep paralysis, can be terrifying, causing individuals to feel trapped in a nightmare from which they cannot wake. Although the experience is harrowing, it is important to remember that sleep paralysis is not dangerous and does not have any lasting effects. In most cases, sleep paralysis is caused by a disruption in the normal sleep cycle.

This can be due to sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, or other factors. If you find yourself frequently experiencing sleep paralysis, it may be helpful to speak to a doctor or mental health professional.

They can help you identify any underlying causes and develop strategies for dealing with them. In the meantime, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of sleep paralysis. For example, practice good sleep hygiene by maintaining a regular sleep schedule and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed.

Taking steps to reduce stress and anxiety in your life can also help. If you do experience sleep paralysis, try to stay calm and focus on waking yourself up by moving your toes or another body part. With time and effort, you can break free from the paralysis and wake up from the nightmare.

Can a Nightmare Give You PTSD?

Nightmares are one of the symptoms of PTSD that can lead to a diagnosis. Nightmares can also act as a predictor of PTSD. A study that was done with Vietnam veterans found that those who had nightmares were more likely to develop PTSD than those who did not have nightmares. The study also found that the severity of the nightmares was correlated with the severity of the PTSD.

The nightmares can cause a person to relive the trauma and can be so realistic that they can affect a person’s daily life. The nightmares can cause sleep deprivation which can then lead to other problems such as anxiety, irritability, and concentration problems.

Treatment for PTSD usually includes exposure therapy and medication. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the person to the trauma in a safe setting. This helps the person to process the trauma and eventually overcome it. Medication is used to help with the symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.

Final Words

Nightmares can be very disturbing and affect our daily lives. There are ways to stop nightmares, however, that do not require medication. If you experience regular nightmares, try some of the methods we have suggested and see if they work for you.

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