How to Stop Nightmares During Your Sleep
Nightmares are vivid, distressing nightmares that tend to arise during REM sleep and often result in sudden awakening. Nightmares differentiate themselves from other parasomnias such as night panic attacks and psychological disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Nightmares can be treated through psychotherapy and/or medication. Psychotherapy interventions for nightmares include desensitization therapy (imaginary rehearsal therapy) and cognitive-restructuring techniques such as lucid dreaming.
1. Keep a journal.
Keep a journal by your bed, writing in it as soon as you wake up, to help remember and record your dreams and reduce nightmares. It may also help with insomnia.
Nightmares can be terrifying experiences and are frequently associated with mental illnesses like depression or schizophrenia. Frequent and severe nightmares have also been linked to parasomnias like rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder or sleep terrors, in addition to depression or schizophrenia.
Medication that affects norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, or acetylcholine (such as levodopa, pramipexole and ropinirole for Parkinson disease as well as antidepressants, antipsychotics and some antimicrobials) may trigger or worsen nightmares [1, 2]. Nightmares tend to occur more frequently among female adolescents and young adults compared with males during adolescence and young adulthood but these differences don't hold across studies [1, 2]. In general psychiatric assessment and treatment will often decrease nightmare frequency and severity [1, 3].
2. Take a warm bath.
Dreams are an integral part of sleep, and typically only become an issue when they recur or interfere with daily life. Though nightmares affect all ages, they tend to be most prevalent among children and adolescents, often being caused by stress, illness, conflict, certain foods or sleep deprivation.
If your child has recurrent nightmares, try talking to them during a calm time during the day and assessing their stress levels; anxiety about an upcoming school test or social encounter could be at play and be the source of their bad dreams.
Help your child relax by including them in a soothing bedtime ritual. Reading a book or taking a warm bath before sleeping may help ease them into peaceful slumber. Avoid stress-inducing movies and shows before bed, and aim to eliminate caffeine, alcohol and nicotine as these substances can disrupt sleeping patterns and lead to nightmares. Furthermore, maintaining regular sleeping schedules with proper hygiene practices will also reduce nightmares.
Nightmares are intense and frightening dreams that awaken you in the middle of the night, sending chills up your spine. Nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - the phase in which most dreaming takes place - and may be caused by illness, trauma, anxiety, stress or medications taken concurrently; or foods or drinks consumed; they could also have come about spontaneously as chemical signals within our bodies acting upon us while dreaming. Although its cause remains elusive, nightmares could play an integral part in managing subconscious thoughts, sorting memories from learned information or simply random chemical signals influencing us while dreaming.
If you find yourself having frequent nightmares, seek advice from either your physician or mental health provider. Nightmares may be caused by other conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment may include stress management techniques or therapy that could help relieve nightmares.
Other effective treatments for nightmares include image rehearsal therapy - where one alters and rehearses their nightmare before sleep - and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which utilizes eye movements and tapping motions to help process trauma memories. Good sleep hygiene such as keeping to a regular wake/sleep schedule as well as limiting consumption of fatty or greasy food or alcohol close to bedtime can also be extremely useful.
Have a recurring nightmare that's keeping you awake at night? Taking some steps can help relieve this strain and restore a regular sleeping pattern. Writing out what's happening can be helpful both visually and as an outlet to release tension before bedtime.
Be sure to try and relax, particularly before bed. This could include taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga breathing exercises, cuddling with your partner or simply drinking less alcohol as this could also disrupt sleep patterns. Additionally, if your nightmares seem connected with anxiety or depression issues, consult your physician for possible treatments options.
Image rehearsal therapy or hypnosis administered by an experienced therapist may help reduce nightmares associated with PTSD. They can also provide insight into how it's impacting you, pinpoint triggers for it and offer strategies for its management.
5. Get out of bed.
Nightmares can cause fear and anxiety that makes it hard to return to sleep, leading to physical exhaustion, mental stress and anxiety, and excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Adults must recognize that nightmares are common and should not just "grow out of them".
Adult nightmares may be caused by major life events, stressful aspects of daily routine, recalling unpleasant memories close to bedtime and certain medical conditions and medications (high blood pressure medication, heart medication, antidepressants, beta blockers or sedatives prescribed for Parkinson's disease or high blood pressure) or certain sedatives used for Parkinson's disease treatment or high blood pressure control. Some may also have nightmares due to untreated psychological issues like depression or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Exercise, healthy diet and a regular wake-sleep schedule can all help prevent nightmares in both children and adults alike. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bedtime may also prove useful; meditation or breathing exercises could provide great calming activities to aid sleep. If nightmares still persist after this advice has been followed then consult a medical provider immediately.