How to Forget a Bad Dream and Fall Back Asleep

Three Parts:Diverting Your Mind with Other Thoughts and ActivitiesGetting Yourself Back to SleepPreventing Nightmares

Bad dreams are common and can affect any person of any age.[1] Bad dreams happen during the rapid eye movement, or REM, phase of sleep and can cause immediate awakening and good recall of the dream.[2] Nightmares can seem vivid and real and may anxiety, a pounding heartbeat or sweating. You may recall details of the dream easily as well as have difficulty falling back asleep. Although bad dreams are harmless, they can disrupt your sleep over time if you don’t see a doctor about them.[3] You can forget a bad dream and get back to sleep by diverting your mind with other thoughts or activities and using relaxing techniques.

Part 1
Diverting Your Mind with Other Thoughts and Activities

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    Distract yourself. A bad dream can leave strong images in your mind that are difficult to forget.[4] If you have a bad dream and can’t forget it, find a way to distract your mind. You could get out of bed for a few minutes. Consider watching peaceful images of a beach or mountains from a sleep or meditation app on one of your devices.[5]
    • Leave your bedroom for a bit and sit or lie someplace relaxing. Turn on a dim light if that helps you feel better. Read, watch a funny show, or listen to soft music, all of which can divert your attention from the nightmare.
    • Show a pet some love, which can calm you and help you forget the dream. Talking to your pet may also help you. For example, stroke your cat and say, “Hello Socks, would you like to snuggle for a bit? What a good kitty you are. Listen to you purr. That makes me happy.”
    • Load apps on one of your devices that promote sleep and/ or meditation. These often have soothing music and images that can distract your mind and relax you.
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    Reframe your bad dream. Cognitive reframing is a technique that has you step back from a situation and alter its various aspects.[6] Change out terrifying parts of a bad dream positive images. Reframing the storyline of your bad dream with different and happy images can help you forget its details. In turn, this can help you relax and get back to sleep.[7]
    • Keep in mind how often you forget dreams in the process of thinking about other things. Reframing your bad dream in alternative terms can help you forget it just as quickly as other dreams.[8]
    • Switch the storyline of the bad dream as soon as you wake up. Remove whatever upsets you by thinking about it or even writing it in a journal you keep next to your bed.[9] This is especially useful because handwriting is closely associated with memory.[10]
    • Replace the bad elements of the dream for something happy and positive. For example, if you dream that a whale capsizes your boat, tell yourself or write, “A giant whale swam next to us and then guided us to a tropical paradise.”
    • Avoid assigning meaning to your dreams as well. Remind yourself that dreams are just a product of your brain’s processing functions. They do not indicate something about you or about the future. Try not to assign meaning to the dream or to try to interpret the dream. If you want to consider the dream further, then do so later on when you are feeling calm.
  3. 3
    Turn on a nightlight. Dim lights can provide comfort in the dark of the night. Turn on your nightlight or small lamp next to your bed as soon as you wake up from a bad dream. This can relax and re-orient you to your surroundings.[11]
    • Choose a light in a soothing color that won’t stimulate your body to wake up. Hues in the red, yellow, or orange range are the best choices.[12]
    • Set the light near your bed so that you can turn it on easily when you wake up from a bad dream.
  4. 4
    Ignore your clock. If you have a clock in your bedroom or next to your bed, turn it so that you can’t see the time. Watching time pass can make the physical and emotional distress from a bad dream worse. Ignoring your clock can help you forget the dream and get back to sleep more quickly.[13]
  5. 5
    Bring some fresh scents into your room. What you smell can positively affect your mood and your dreams. If you wake up from a bad dream, place some fresh flowers or an aromatherapy oil next to or near your bed. These may help soothe your thoughts, relax you, and help you fall back asleep.[14] Consider some of the following scents:
    • Coconut
    • Jasmine
    • Lavender
    • Marjoram
    • Peppermint
    • Rose
    • Vanilla[15]
  6. 6
    Perform a grounding exercise. Grounding exercises can help to reduce anxiety and calm yourself down after something frightening has happened. If your bad dream has left you feeling shaken, then doing a grounding exercise may help you to feel better. Most grounding exercises require you to engage with the five senses. A simple exercise that you can do is to name or write:[16]
    • Five things in the room that you can see. You might see a clock, a picture, your cat, a lamp, and a dresser.
    • Four things you can feel. You might feel the blankets on your skin, your pillow, cool air on your face, and your cat’s fur.
    • Three things you can hear. You might hear a car passing by, your cat purring, and the sound of a fan.
    • Two things you can smell. You might smell the lotion on your arms and the scent of fresh rain coming in through your window.
    • One thing you like about yourself or that other people like. You might note that one good thing about yourself is that you are kind to people.

Part 2
Getting Yourself Back to Sleep

  1. 1
    Tense and relax muscles to fall asleep. A bad dream can make you wake up suddenly. This shocks your body and the fear can increase your heart rate. Use the technique of tensing and relaxing each muscle group to bring your heart rate down to a normal level and help you fall back asleep. Focusing on the tension and relaxation may also further distract your thoughts from your bad dream.[17]
    • Tense and release each muscle group in your body starting at your toes and ending at your head. Tense each muscle group for 10 seconds and then release it for 10 seconds. Taking a deep breath in between each muscle can further relax you.[18]
  2. 2
    Meditate to calm yourself to sleep. A bad dream can increase your heart rate and it may also cause rapid breathing and anxiety.[19] Taking a few minutes to meditate can lower your heart rate, return your breathing to normal, decrease anxiety, and increase relaxation. In turn, this can help you not only fall back asleep, but may divert lingering memories of the bad dream.[20]
    • Breathe naturally without controlling it to help relax you and bring your heart rate back to normal more quickly. Let your thoughts to come and go as they will. This can help you relax and more easily let go of your bad dream.
    • Repeat “let” every time you breathe in and “go” every time you exhale if you are having a hard time meditating.
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    Peel off restrictive bedding. Bad dreams can cause a lot of emotional and physical symptoms including sweating. Taking off any restrictive bedding can help you cool off, lower your heart rate, and help you fall asleep more easily.[21]
    • Take off only enough bedding to help you stay cool and comfortable. Cover yourself enough to minimize chills and help you feel safe. Having increased body temperature may make it more difficult to fall asleep.[22]
    • Change your bedding if you’ve soaked it during a bad dream. This can help you forget the dream, relax you, and help you fall back asleep.

Part 3
Preventing Nightmares

  1. 1
    Recognize the causes of bad dreams. There are a variety of things that can cause bad dreams or recurring nightmares. Limiting your exposure to them may help reduce how often you get bad dreams and make the content less frightening. [23] Some common causes of bad dreams include:
    • Stress
    • Trauma
    • Sleep deprivation
    • Medications such as antidepressants or blood pressure drugs
    • Substance abuse
    • Reading a scary book or watching a scary movie[24]
  2. 2
    Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up time at the same time every day can help you to fall back asleep if you wake up.[25] It wards off sleep deprivation, which can cause bad dreams. Maintaining a consistent sleep routine can help control nightmares.[26]
    • Get between 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep every night to prevent sleep deprivation.[27]
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    Write your dreams in a diary. Keeping a dream diary may help you identify the source of your bad dreams. If you wake up from a bad dream, write down what the dream. Include any factors that may have made it worse such as stress, alcohol consumption, or entertainment before bed. See if you notice any patterns in the dreams over time.[28]
    • Keep a notebook next to your bed so that you can document the dream as soon as you wake up. You can also consider using a small voice recorder if writing is too difficult.
  4. 4
    Practice a nighttime ritual. Your brain and body need time to switch into sleep mode. Having a pre-bed routine can signal your body and brain to relax, which can help you fall asleep and prevent bad dream.[29]
    • Avoid electronics such as television or devices. This can reduce anxiety prevent you from seeing images that can cause a bad dream.[30]
    • Incorporate things such as reading a light novel with the lights dimmed, drinking herbal tea, or taking a warm bath to relax you.[31]
    • Avoid or limit alcohol and drugs, which can also cause bad dreams and disrupt your sleep.[32] Limiting or quitting either substance altogether may control or prevent nightmares and help you get a better night’s sleep.[33]
  5. 5
    Reduce stress in your life. Stress and anxiety are the primary causes of bad dreams in adults.[34] Reducing how much stress you are exposed to can prevent bad dreams, help you relax, and may promote a good night’s sleep.
    • Stay away from stressful situations as much as you can. Take a short walk to relax yourself during a stressful situation.
    • Relieve stress and anxiety by getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Exercise can help you sleep easier and have beneficial effects on your mood, which can prevent bad dreams.[35]
  6. 6
    See a doctor. Bad dreams might seem harmless, but they can affect your mood and ability to function because they disrupt vital sleep time. If nothing stops bad dreams and your ability to fall back asleep, see your doctor. A medical professional can identify the cause of the dreams and treat you for them as well as for the disrupted sleep. A doctor may also send you to a sleep specialist[36]
    • Show the doctor your dream diary if you keep one. This can give the doctor a better idea of your dreams and what is causing them.
    • Answer any questions your doctor may have about your dreams, sleep patterns, or lifestyle choices that can influence them. Ask any questions you may have about your dreams.
    • Be aware that your doctor may suggest seeing a sleep specialist or a mental health professional. The doctor may even give you a prescription to relieve anxiety or help you sleep.

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Categories: Dreams