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wikiHow to Forget a Bad Dream

Three Parts:Dealing With the Dream When You WakeForgetting the Dream the Next DayPreventing Bad Dreams

Everyone needs a good night's sleep, but sometimes a dream can be so disturbing that it makes it hard to get back to sleep. Some especially bad nightmares are so disturbing that they seem to haunt you even when you're awake, affecting the quality of your daily life. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help yourself forget a bad dream and prevent it from reoccurring.

Part 1
Dealing With the Dream When You Wake

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    Remember that dreams aren't real. Bad dreams are caused by all sorts of random things, from the food you ate before bed, to something you watched on TV, or even because of stress or problems in your life that are completely unrelated to the dream.[1]
    • There is no relationship between bad (or good) things that happen in your dream and things that are going to happen in your real life, so don't stress or worry that your dream is predicting the future. While dreams don't have any relationship to the future, they are a reflection of the past and your current life: they reflect trauma, stress, memories, and experiences your mind is trying to assimilate as you rest.[2]
    • When you wake from a bad dream in the middle of the night, it is important that you immediately turn your mind away from the dream and latch on to something in your reality. Think about whatever brings you the most joy in life: your family, your pets, a loved one, a gorgeous sunset. This is called "guided imagery," an intentional mental strategy to guide your mind in the right direction to relax.[3]
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    Breathe. Calm down and just relax. Nightmares are known to cause physiological responses such as an increased heart rate and a cold sweat.[4] Practice some meditative techniques to get your mind off of your dream and calmed enough to return to sleep.
    • Practice deep abdominal breathing to relax your heart rate. Lying on your back, place your hand over your stomach and slowly inhale deeply through your nose. Let the air expand your belly instead of your chest, then slowly push the air out with your hand through pursed lips. Focus on the feeling of the air filling and leaving your body.[5]
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    Recite a calming mantra. When you were a very young child, it is likely that your mother or father comforted you when you had a bad dream. You can evoke the same feeling by reciting words of comfort to yourself when you wake alone.[6]
    • It can be as simple as "You're awake, you're safe. You're awake, you're safe." You could also recite the words to a peaceful poem (Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a great choice) or the lyrics to a calming songs (children's lullabies are often a good choice).
    • If you are religious, you might prefer a scriptural recitation or prayer that helps you feel comforted in times of stress.

Part 2
Forgetting the Dream the Next Day

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    Do something to take your mind off it. Whether it's reading a book, watching TV, or calling your friends, take time to unwind and do whatever makes you happy.
    • If the themes of the dream continue to bother you throughout the day, remind yourself that the dream was not real and that there is no reason to be afraid.
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    Vent your feelings. Since you want to forget the dream, talking about it might seem counter-productive. But sometimes the only way to forget a really troubling dream is to process what it meant and why it bothered you by talking it out with a trusted friend.[7]
    • Tell someone you trust and you know won't laugh or make fun of you. Call your parents, e-mail your friend or just tell them in person. It's better to get things off your chest.
    • A friend who knows your past and any current stressors in your life might be able to help you pinpoint what is causing the dreams or why they bother you so much.[8]
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    Relax at bedtime. Most people are able to forget about their bad dreams during the day, but begin to feel anxious again toward bedtime because they do not want to re-experience something so troubling. As bedtime rolls around, try to train your mind to calm down and focus on the happy moments.
    • Avoid television, films, violent video games, or reading right before bed, especially if you tend to watch or read material that is suspenseful or frightening. These types of media can put your mind on edge and result in bad dreams as your subconscious continues on the train of thought started by the TV or book.[9][
    • Avoid watching the nightly news or reading news stories online prior to bedtime. News media tend to focus on frightening stories about crime, death, and war because those types of stories seem to attract more viewers, but watching the news will give you a warped sense of reality. Media scholars call this "mean world syndrome," and it’s the tendency for people who watch a lot of television news to believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is.
    • Do whatever relaxes you most: have sex, read religious scriptures, read or watch soothing, lighthearted books or television, take a long hot bath, or have your significant other give you a massage with pleasantly scented oils or lotions.

Part 3
Preventing Bad Dreams

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    Figure out what is causing your bad dreams. Understanding what triggers you dreams can help you to take steps to prevent them from occurring.
    • Dreams can be caused by medications (especially narcotics, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications), foods or drinks (particularly alcohol, but your individual triggers could be anything), stressful events, a fever or illness, or sleep deprivation.[10] Some people even experience nightmares if they become overheated from too many blankets or pajamas that are too warm.[11]
    • Do you eat a midnight snack before bed? While people used to think that only certain foods could trigger nightmares (such as spicy food), scientists now believe that it’s the act of eating itself that causes increased dream and nightmare activity, not the specific food. It's thought that eating increases your metabolism, which in turn increases your brain activity at a time when your brain is normally unwinding for rest. The increased activity leads to increased dreams and nightmares.[12]
    • If you have recurring nightmares, keep a journal of the dream that includes information about any medication, unusual foods or drinks, stressful life events or worries, or illnesses that might have accompanied it.
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    Practice strategies to relieve stress. Not only do bad dreams often reflect stress or anxiety in your waking life, but the experience of having them can add to your stress load,[13] potentially increasing your bad dreams in a vicious cycle. Take time for yourself each day to relieve stress. Try these strategies:
    • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a meditation strategy that focuses on the present moment rather than the past or future. In studies, mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and negative affect.[14] Try yoga as a great way to learn mindfulness.[15]
    • Exercise to relieve stress. Bad dreams can be caused by stress or depression. Exercising is a great way to de-stress yourself, so why not go for a jog in the park? Exercise not only can help resolve your stress (thus eliminating one of the potential causes of bad dreams), it also helps you to fall asleep faster and sleep deeper, which might also contribute to less nightmares.[16]
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    Try altering your sleep environment. Changing the environment can help to reduce your stress level, which in turn can help to reduce your nightmares. It can also help to make your room's atmosphere seem more reassuring when you wake from a nightmare.
    • Check the thermostat. Most people sleep best at a temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.[17] You may be tempted to crank up the temperature on cold nights, but a lower temperature is more conducive to a good night's sleep and may help to ward off bad dreams.
    • Wear thin pajamas or sleep in the nude, and avoid using more blankets than necessary to fall asleep: a thin sheet and one blanket is probably plenty. Remember, the goal is to keep your body temperature down so that you don't become overheated in the night.
    • If you typically sleep in pitch-black, consider a dim nightlight. It can help to remind you when you wake that you are safe and in your room.[18] If you typically use a light, consider sleeping in pitch black. Some people find the shadows made by nightlights to be disturbing.
    • Consider a comfort object. If you typically sleep alone, a stuffed animal can be comforting if you become frightened in the night. And if you're worried that stuffed animals are just for small children, consider this: one survey done in England found that one in four adult men traveled with stuffed animals in their suitcases![19]
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    Accept some bad dreams as necessary. The mind processes stress and traumatic experiences through bad dreams, and allowing those dreams to occur is an important part of coping with the reality that caused them.
    • Instead of trying to squash all bad dreams, try to get at the root of what is stressing you and deal with that instead. The dreams will naturally subside or change to reflect your reality.[20]
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    See a therapist or family doctor. In most cases, infrequent nightmares are perfectly normal and just an unfortunate part of life that we have to deal with. For some people, though, they might signal an underlying problem, so see a specialist if bad dreams become problematic.
    • Persistent or recurring nightmares might suggest an anxiety disorder or a traumatic past, or perhaps a mental disorder that a therapist or doctor can help you to deal with. Remember, to stop the dreams, you need to get at the root of what is causing it. Many therapists are trained to do just that.[21]


  • Hug something like a stuffed animal or your pet, a friend or family member.
  • Develop good sleeping habits. Take a bath, read a book or watch television or if you have stuffed animal hug it!
  • Read a happy book, especially short children's books. They tend to promote happy thoughts and get your mind off the dream.
  • Don't stress about it too much because as time passes, the dream will get lost in other thoughts.
  • Clear your mind of any negative thoughts or feelings.


  • Repeated nightmares or nightmares that cause acute stress might actually be a symptom of an underlying sleep disorder or psychological condition, such as nightmare disorder (formerly known as dream anxiety disorder), narcolepsy, night terror disorder,[22] sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorder, or sleep paralysis.[23] Be sure to talk to your doctor if you feel like you are experiencing more than just a bad dream.

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Categories: Dreams