Nightmares – the worst interruption of a good night’s sleep. Ever wake up sweating and panting because you just fell off a cliff or are being chased by a monster? 80 to 90 percent of people have nightmares at some point in their life, and around five percent of the U.S. population struggles with chronic nightmares, according to the American Sleep Association (ASA). Then there are the unlucky ones who tend to haven nightmares on a regular basis. We would love to make it stop, but how?
“Nightmare-ridden sleep can stem from multiple causes, including trauma and poor lifestyle habits. It might come as no surprise to you that sleep issues are the most commonly reported side effect of PTSD,” said John Shegerian, the co-founder and CEO of Som Sleep. “Too many stimulants close to bedtime can also impact your sleep: Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and even looking at your smartphone can overstimulate your nervous system, and result in nightmares.”
Nightmares not only hinder us from a good night’s sleep, but also leaves us lethargic during the day. There’s no way to tell the exact cause of your bad dreams, but maybe these tips can help you out. Here are seven ways to enhance your chances of sleeping throughout the night with no interruptions of a bad nightmare.
1. Reduce Your Intake Of Caffeine, Alcohol, & Stimulants
It’s funny to think that we drink caffeine in order to help us stay awake. It is pretty obvious that downing that large iced coffee, alcohol, or smoking a cigarette close to bedtime can cause sleep problems – especially nightmares.
Shegerian suggests to “limit stimulants throughout the day with your bedtime in mind. Caffeine can keep you alert for up to six hours after consumption.”
Don’t believe us? A recent study proved that drinking coffee within six hours of going to bed led to one less hour of sleep a night.
Shegarian also suggests “steer[ing] clear of alcohol, nicotine, and other stimulants close to bedtime in order to achieve a healthy, restful night of sleep.”
2. Take A Shot At Lucid Dreaming
Founder and principle physician at The Center for Sinus, Allergy and Sleep Wellness, Dr. David Brodner, said that lucid dreaming can help stop a nightmare in its tracks. What is lucid dreaming you are probably wondering? IT is when you are aware you are dreaming, which allows you to have more control over the idea of your dream.
“Once lucid within the nightmare, the dreamer can realize that there is no real danger, even despite lingering fear,” said Michelle Carr, a researcher at Swansea University Sleep Laboratory, in an article for Psychology Today. “At this point, the dreamer can attempt to break free of habitual responses, instead consciously choosing how to respond.”
3. Stop. Looking. At. Your. Phone.
Who doesn’t love looking at memes right before you go to bed? Even though this sounds tempting, experts say to disconnect from electronics if you want to sleep through the night.
“Power down electronics one hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens can wreak havoc on your sleep,” says Shegerian. “If you can’t quite bring yourself to put the phone down, be sure to put your phone in night mode, and think about investing in a pair of blue light blocking glasses.”
There’s also the idea of grabbing your phone right after you wake up from a nightmare, but Shegerian says this is counterintuitive.
“You may want to check the time or scroll through social media to soothe yourself from your nightmare, but the light from your phone will trick your brain into thinking it’s morning, and make it even more difficult for you to fall asleep,” he explains.
There are other ways to help out with this such as reading a paper book, walking around your room, or even meditating.
4. Get A Little Help From Natural Sleep Supplements
Drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks right before bed isn’t the smartest idea, but herbal teas such as chamomile and lavender are. These teas can help with falling asleep and ease your anxiety.
If you don’t love the taste of tea, Shegerian says you can try to take a sleep aid.
“Som Sleep is scientifically advanced to ready your body and mind for sleep. It uses melatonin, L-Theanine, and GABA, and promotes relaxation so you can calm your mind to achieve natural, restorative sleep,” he says.
There’s also the option of plain old melatonin to help with sleeping naturally.
5. Don’t Forget To Exercise
We kid you not that exercising throughout the day actually helps with falling asleep. Dr. Brodner highly suggests this technique, especially those who have a lot of stress and anxiety. Exercising doesn’t have to be such high intensity; it can range from meditating, practicing self-care, or even trying to work on becoming more positive throughout the day.
6. Concentrate On Your Breathing
Breathing techniques are a great way to not only hinder bad dreams, but also help you calm down when you wake up from a nightmare you just had. Reconnecting with your body is very important in general, so this tip does not surprise us. Why do you think yoga teachers are so positive all the time?!
“Try the 4/7/8 breathing exercise to help soothe yourself back to sleep [after a nightmare],” says Shegerian. “Exhale completely through your mouth before you start. Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose for a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven, then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat this four times; this will help you relieve tension, and stress to fall back asleep quickly.”
7. Maybe Turn To Treatment Or Prescription
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder or PTSD, your best bet might be to go to therapy or even consider medication to help with your nightmares. Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that makes chronic nightmares seem less scary for people with PTSD, with the help of a trained mental health professional.
“Imagery rehearsal therapy involves changing the ending to your remembered nightmare while awake so that it’s no longer threatening,” says the Mayo Clinic. “You then rehearse the new ending in your mind.”
A great way to help with nightmares is to also keep a dream journal, which is part of the IRT process.
Identifying the cause of a specific nightmare might lead to your lifestyle habits or changes in your mental health. It is a great way to stop the nightmares even before they happen. By following these seven tricks approved by experts, your nightmares will finally be in the grave.