Going to sleep, you experience all kinds of dreams. Most of the dreams are usually pleasant, but sometimes nightmares occur, leaving you disturbed and scared upon waking up. If they’re persistent, you must be wondering how to stop nightmares.
There are ways to understand how to get rid of nightmares. What you have to do is put a little effort into monitoring your daily life and be willing to make some changes needed to avoid having nightmares. So, if you’re wondering what these changes are and you want to know how to stop having nightmares, keep on reading!
MD, Psychiatry Resident
What is important to mention when talking about avoiding nightmares?
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is important in avoiding nightmares. Otherwise, sleep deprivation causes a rebound effect where rapid eye movement (REM) sleep comes on too quickly and too intensely the next time you go to sleep, to compensate for the loss of REM sleep during periods of sleep deprivation. Stay away from substances like alcohol or drugs if you want to minimize the risk of nightmares, especially a few hours before bedtime. Some medications can also increase the risk of nightmares, so if you have that side effect, let your doctor know.
Table of Contents
- 1. What Are Nightmares?
- 2. How to Stop Nightmares?
- 2.1. Sleep Comfortably
- 2.2. Get Enough Sleep
- 2.3. Keep a Sleeping Routine
- 2.4. Limit Food and Drinks Before Bed
- 2.5. Destress
- 2.6. Avoid Stressful Situations
- 2.7. Treat Anxiety
- 2.8. Avoid Certain Medications and Drugs
- 2.9. Talk About the Problem
- 3. Conclusions
What Are Nightmares?
If you want to know how to prevent nightmares or even how to get rid of nightmares after you get them, you first have to learn when and how they occur.
To put it simply, nightmares are vivid horrifying dreams. They might wake you up trembling from fear, sweating and they might make your heart race all due to fright your body experiences because of the nightmares.
Nightmares, just like all the other types of dreams, mostly occur in the REM stage of sleep. REM is the fourth out of four sleep stages in the sleep cycle. It’s the rapid-eye-movement sleep stage. During it, your heartbeat and breathing quicken, similar to when you're awake.
While you’re in the REM stage of sleep, your muscles are paralyzed so you can dream without the fear of your body acting on your dreams. That’s pretty much it when it comes to sleep stages concerning nightmares. If you’d like to know more about sleep stages, check out the complete guide explaining them.
Now that you’ve learned what sleep stages are, continue reading and learn how to prevent nightmares!
How to Stop Nightmares?
Having learned what they are, naturally, you want to know how to stop nightmares. There quite a few easy steps to take if you want to learn how to stop having nightmares:
- Sleep comfortably
- Get enough sleep
- Keep a sleeping routine
- Food and drinks before sleep
- Avoid stressful situations
- Treat anxiety
- Avoid certain medications and drugs
- Talk about the problem
Let’s explore each of them more in-depth.
One of the most important things to ensure that your sleep quality is sufficient is making sure you’re sleeping comfortably. Lots of factors influence your quality of sleep. Some of them are the temperature of your bedroom, your stress levels, overall health, and many more.
If you want to know how to stop nightmares, you should know that the easiest way to boost your comfort levels while asleep is getting a better mattress and a new pillow. These two affect our wellbeing the most when it comes to sleep quality.
The mattress affects your whole body when you’re asleep. A bad one might leave you with a backache, overheating while sleeping, tossing and turning throughout the night, struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position. A good one is sure to help you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day after a good night’s sleep.
To learn how to stop having nightmares, you need to choose the best mattress. First, you must analyze your preferences, take your sleeping position into consideration and also keep your other priorities in mind.
Do you need bounciness, or maybe the biggest concern is if it sleeps cool. Having thought about that, check out the best mattresses out there and choose the one that suits your needs.
Having made sure your mattress is in order, you must take care of your pillow too. It’s the essential sleeping accessory that might determine your sleeping quality. If your pillow is getting old and uncomfortable, you may need to replace it. Here is the full in-depth guide on the best pillows out there.
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Get Enough Sleep
Sleep quality goes well with its quantity. To understand how to prevent nightmares, you shouldn’t forget that we, as adults, need at least 7-9 hours of sleep in order to remain healthy and feel rested. You need to make sure that you get at least the minimum of the required amount.
Not getting enough sleep results in irritation, stress, and other negative emotions, that greatly influence nightmares. Since nightmares mostly occur when you’re feeling stressed, you should take all the means to avoid that.
To do that, you have to take care of all the factors preventing you from falling asleep. Eliminate stress, take care of your environment, and try to go to sleep as early as possible to get a good night’s rest.
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Keep a Sleeping Routine
Consistency in your sleep is a vital part of a sleeping routine if you want to know how to stop nightmares. There are various health benefits of going to sleep and waking up at the same time, as it results in a better quality of sleep.
Finding the times that are most suitable for your lifestyle will benefit you greatly if you stick to them. One of the most important things it does to your body is that it prevents you from overtiring yourself.
Ideally, your sleeping schedule will be adjusted, so you feel your best when you wake up by getting enough sleep. This way, it reduces the probability of having nightmares.
If you go to bed not feeling overtired, you’ll have a better sleeping experience, and this way lower the risk of your sleep being interrupted by waking up from a nightmare. So, in order to understand how to get rid of nightmares, you should first try to take care of your sleeping habits.
Limit Food and Drinks Before Bed
Eating dinner just before bedtime is undoubtedly not the best option if you’re looking for solutions for how to stop nightmares. A small snack before bed is totally fine, but you should avoid large meals just before going to sleep.
That is due to your metabolism slowing down while asleep and having difficulties metabolizing the meals. This way, your body is stressed due to additional actions it has to take instead of getting you ready for revitalizing sleep. Eating smaller amounts before bed and waiting a few hours after dinner before going to sleep will surely ease that.
Having thought about foods, you should also consider taking a look at your drinks ingestion if you want to know how to prevent nightmares.
The main enemy here is caffeine. As you know, nightmares mostly occur because of stress, and caffeine is a stimulant that has similar effects to what your body experiences when you’re stressed: your heartbeat quickens, and you become more alert.
To avoid caffeine intake before sleep, which can provoke nightmares, you should make sure not to drink any caffeinated beverages. These include coffee, most of the teas (except for the herbal ones), and sodas. Stick to water or other non-caffeinated alternatives, and you'll lower the risk of getting nightmares.
Another necessary step to take if you’re looking for ways how to stop nightmares is destressing. You have to make sure there aren’t any thoughts that nightmares could be based on before you go to sleep. Stress and anxiety are the main components of nightmares.
A few ways to do that are becoming active, as that’s one of the best stress relievers, taking a walk outside, journaling, reading a book, or practicing a hobby. You should try to go to bed feeling relaxed, not thinking about all the troubles you have, or even worse, the irrational anxious thoughts of the possible worst outcomes in the future.
Avoid Stressful Situations
Another thing concerning stress that could be done if you’re looking for ways how to stop nightmares is avoiding it overall. It might seem impossible to some of us as stress has become a daily part of our lives.
Even kids have to deal with stress at school with deadlines and high competitiveness among fellow students. And adults have demanding jobs that can’t be left behind. Considering all this, it might seem impossible to avoid the harsh reality that seems to haunt us even when we’re done with work.
One crucial step you could take to ease that is not overthink things, and once you’re done with the work for the day, don’t let it bother you. Adopt a positive attitude and try not to let things bother you as much as possible.
Furthermore, there are stress triggers that might not seem as obvious. If you’re one of the people who are sensitive to horror movies, you shouldn’t watch them. If you don’t like going home alone in the dark, find someone to accompany you. Try to figure out what stresses you out and think of ways to avoid that.
If you have nightmares repeatedly, you’re rather likely to have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is a psychological issue when certain anxious thoughts interfere with your daily life. It shouldn’t be confused with generic stress as it’s a lot more serious, but the symptoms might overlap.
Some of its symptoms include excessive worrying, irritability, fatigue, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty falling asleep, and a few more unsettling effects. It all results in poor quality sleep, and this way, it induces nightmares.
Anxiety disorder is a severe illness that affects your life. There are ways to treat it and alleviate the symptoms to make the quality of your life better. If you want to understand how to stop nightmares and If you think you might have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your doctor and get tested for it.
Avoid Certain Medications and Drugs
Certain types of drugs influence the probability of having nightmares. The ones that affect nightmares the most are the ones that have to do with neurotransmitters. They’re mostly used to treat mental issues, so if you take any of these, make sure they’re not causing this side effect.
To learn how to stop nightmares, you have to analyze your medicine intake too. If you realize that persistent nightmares are due to your medicine, you should consider changing them. To do that, you must consult your doctor first.
Another substance that can also make nightmares more probable is one that’s really commonly consumed - it’s alcohol. Although it’s not usually the alcohol consumption itself that makes you have nightmares, but it’s the withdrawal. To stop having nightmares, you should limit your alcohol intake.
Talk About the Problem
One of the worst things to do when you have any issue is not acknowledging them and remaining silent about them. This way, you repress your emotions and get even more stressed about it. So, if you want to know how to stop nightmares, you should talk it out.
If you experience reoccurring nightmares, you might find a common topic these nightmares are about. It could signal your biggest fear or a stressful job or school-related task. You should identify it and try to seek help from those closest to you.
Reach out to your friends or family. Most likely, you’re not the only one who has to deal with nightmares, and they might help you deal with them if they’ve dealt with nightmares themselves. Furthermore, if not help with nightmares directly, they might calm you down and minimize the stress you feel about ongoing affairs in your life.
Those who experience nightmares often would guarantee that they’re not a pleasant thing to deal with. Waking up from one might make you too scared to resume sleeping, or even if you’re able to fall asleep, you might not experience such a good quality of sleep.
So if you want to know how to stop nightmares, you have to take a few steps. First, you have to ensure you’re sleeping comfortably and that you get enough sleep. Good sleep quality is vital for your overall well-being and also preventing nightmares.
Having done that, take a step further in your sleep adjustment and set a routine for when you’ll go to sleep and wake up.
One more thing concerning your lifestyle that needs to be done is limiting your food intake before bed to avoid indigestion and also destressing. To ease the distress, you should avoid stressful situations beforehand. Try to not binge watch scary tv series or find ways to avoid your fears not to cause yourself any stress.
When it comes to medical matters, in case you’re concerned about your nightmares stemming from mental health issues, you should see a doctor and deal with anxiety, if you believe that you might have it. Furthermore, if you’re medicated for any illnesses, consider that it might be the drugs that cause nightmares.
And remember that you’re not dealing with it alone. Talk to others about your problem. By that, you could understand the causes better and find ways how to stop nightmares. If you’d like to learn more about nightmares and why they occur, here’s an article explaining all that.
MD, Psychiatry Resident
Contributed By Patricia Celan, MD, Psychiatry Resident
Patricia is a post-graduate trainee in psychiatry, working in diagnosing and treating patients with psychiatric conditions. She is passionate about psychotherapy, especially in trauma, anxiety, and...Read Full Bio...
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