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6 Ways On How To Avoid Nightmares And Bad Dreams

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Nightmares are frightening or unpleasant dreams that rattle you from your sleep and wake you up with your heart pounding. You can usually tell a nightmare from a bad dream because they feel more vivid or intense. Most people have experienced nightmares at one time or another. The usual reaction to wake up scared, realize that none of it was true, and go back to bed.

Nightmares typically occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, or the deepest stage of sleep. However, you know you have problem when your nightmares are regular or the same nightmare keeps repeating. There could be various reasons for recurring nightmares and there is not clear diagnoses yet on the exact reason for their occurrence. Fortunately, there are many different ways on how to avoid nightmares.

1. Check For Any Underlying Disorders

Check For Any Underlying Disorders: How To Avoid Nightmares

You could be getting nightmares because of underlying conditions like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. Anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also known to cause nightmares. The best way to find out is to talk to your doctor and get yourself diagnosed to check if you have any disorders that could be causing the nightmares. Once the reason has been determined, certain therapies or medications might help to alleviate these conditions and lessen nightmares.

2. Don’t Snack Before Going To Bed

Don't Snack Before Going To Bed: How To Avoid Nightmares

When your parents made you eat dinner early, it wasn’t just to get it done with. Every time you eat or drink, your digestive system is activated speeding up your metabolism. Eating just before going to bed sends signals to your brain to make it more active. Your body needs your metabolic and brain activity to slow down for you to get good sleep. So cut down on snacks before bed to sleep better.

3. Take Measures To Reduce Stress

Take Measures To Reduce Stress: How To Avoid Nightmares

Stress is very taxing on your brain and a stressful day could lead to nightmares in the night. If you lead a stressful life, take steps to reduce stress but being more organized and taking short breaks to relax. Yoga has been known to decrease stress and clear the mind. So taking a few yoga classes a week might be helpful. You could also take up activities like knitting or running. The goal here is to help your mind slow down a little or get it engaged creatively. If none of it works, try taking a hot shower before going to bed.

4. Look Into Your Medicine Cabinet

Look Into Your Medicine Cabinet: How To Avoid Nightmares

There are certain medications which can cause nightmares as a side effect. Blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications are known to cause changes in the metabolism which could affect sleep.1 If you are on medication, talk to your doctor about the possible side effects of these medications. In some cases, a change in dosage could also trigger nightmares but the nightmares should stop once your body adjusts.

5. Focus On Improving Your Sleep Quality

Focus On Improving Your Sleep Quality: How To Avoid Nightmares

Irregular sleep patterns, sleep deprivation and fatigue can affect the quality of your sleep resulting in recurrent nightmares. Go to bed at the same time every day and try to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Improve the quality of your sleep by creating a relaxing environment in your bedroom by making sure your bed is tidy and comfortable. If you’re not getting enough exercise, find an activity you enjoy, like dancing or running, and do it 3 to 5 times a week. Watch out for stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine and try to cut back.

6. Try Imagery Rehearsal Treatment

Try Imagery Rehearsal Treatment: How To Avoid Nightmares

Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) is a cognitive behavioral treatment that has been found useful in reducing the number and intensity of nightmares among people with PTSD.2 The therapy involves the following steps:

  • Imagining an alternate ending to the recurring nightmares, one with a more pleasant outcome, while still awake.
  • Writing down and rehearsing nightmares with new endings.
  • Learning to monitor nightmares to check if the therapy is working.

You could either go to a therapist or try a simpler version of IRT yourself but sitting and visualizing a happy ending to your nightmares. Alternatively, you could also focus on thinking happy thoughts before going to bed so that you ease into sleep with a happier state of mind.

The quality of your sleep is important for the quality of your life. If you are being plagued by nightmares regularly, try making lifestyle changes to ensure that you get peaceful and undisturbed sleep. For persistent nightmares, talk to your doctor to check for other factors that may be affecting your sleep.

References   [ + ]

1. John Ericson. 5 Types of Medication Known To Cause Insomnia and Nightmares. Medical Daily. 2013.
2. Forbes, David, Andrea J. Phelps, Anthony F. McHugh, Paul Debenham, Malcolm Hopwood, and Mark Creamer. “Imagery rehearsal in the treatment of posttraumatic nightmares in Australian veterans with chronic combat-related PTSD: 12-month follow-up data.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 16, no. 5 (2003): 509-513.