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How to Stop Having Nightmares

Three Parts:Understanding NightmaresPreventing NightmaresEncouraging Pleasant Dreams

Nightmares can be extremely unpleasant, cause fear and anxiety and affect the quality of your sleep. This can lead to physical tiredness and mental stress. However, it's important to understand the cause of your nightmares before you can begin to treat them. Start with Step 1 below to understand the source of your nightmares and take steps to to prevent them from recurring.

Part 1
Understanding Nightmares

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    Know that it's relatively normal to get nightmares as an adult. A lot of people associate nightmares with children, believing they are something you grow out of. However, it is not uncommon for adults and teens to experience nightmares as well.
    • In fact,1 in every 2 adults will experience nightmares now and again, while 2% to 8% of the adult population suffers from chronic or recurring nightmares.[1]
    • Nightmares are characterized by vividly realistic images, thoughts and emotions which cause your heart to beat faster and sometimes even force you to wake from your sleep. Sometimes details of the nightmare will be remembered and the terrifying or disturbing images can be difficult to shake.
    • As a result, nightmares affect the quality of sleep, leading to physical exhaustion and mental anxiety and stress. If your sleep is being interrupted by nightmares, it can cause issues in other areas of your life and even lead to long-term health problems. Therefore, it is important to understand the source of the nightmares and take steps to prevent them.
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    Understand the difference between nightmares and night terrors. Nightmares and night terrors are two different types of sleep disturbances which are sometimes confused.
    • Nightmares tend to occur during REM sleep, so you will usually experience them in the early hours of the morning. They are experienced as frightening or disturbing dreams which seem vividly real as they occur. The content of the dreams will vary from person to person, though adults often report having nightmares about being chased or falling from a height. People who have experienced a traumatic event tend to relive that event in their nightmare.
    • Night terrors occur during the deeper stages of sleep and so tend to occur in the first few hours of going to bed. They are experienced as an intense feeling of fear, which is not accompanied by dreams or images. It is often accompanied by movement (thrashing or sitting upright in bed) which may cause the person to wake up. Usually the person cannot remember why they were so frightened upon waking.[2]
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    Understand that nightmares can be the symptom of a larger problem. Although nightmares in adults often happen spontaneously with no serious underlying cause, sometimes nightmares will be the result of psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
    • This is particularly likely if the sufferer has recently experienced a traumatic or life-changing event, such as the loss of a loved one, changing or losing a job, having a baby, undergoing surgery or being involved in an accident.
    • Sometimes nightmares are a symptom of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or restless leg symptom. Other times, a person is just genetically predisposed towards nightmares, as research has shown that the likelihood of having nightmares runs in the family.[1]

Part 2
Preventing Nightmares

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    Treat any underlying disorders. If your nightmares are the result of an underlying condition such as sleep apnea or restless leg symptom, receiving treatment for these conditions should help to reduce nightmares.
    • If your nightmares are related to anxiety, depression or PTSD, certain forms of therapy or medications might help to alleviate these conditions and lessen nightmares.
    • In particular, a drug known as Prazosin is often prescribed to help patients with PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders, and can alleviate nightmares.
    • It is important that you speak to your doctor to figure out a treatment option that is best for you.
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    Avoid eating before bed. Eating before bed can trigger nightmares, as food speeds up your metabolism and sends signals to your brain to become more active. Therefore, it's a good idea to cut out bedtime snacks, particularly those that are high in sugar. [3]
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    Reduce stress. Stress can contribute to nightmares, so take some time relax throughout the day and aim to go to bed with a calm, clear mind.
    • Yoga and meditation are both good activities for relieving stress and clearing the mind. Consider taking a class, or simply practice for a few minutes each day in the comfort of your own home.
    • Other activities such as reading, knitting, running or just spending more time with your family and loved can also help to relieve stress.
    • Taking a hot bath before bed can help you to unwind after the stresses of the day and leave you feeling calmer and more relaxed .
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    Talk to your doctor about any medications you're taking. Certain medications can increase the likelihood of nightmares, so speak to your doctor if you feel this might be an issue for you.
    • Anti-depressants and certain blood pressure medications are often responsible for causing nightmares, so speak to your doctor about switching to a different drug.
    • Sometimes a change in dosage or coming off a particular drug can cause nightmares, in which case the bad dreams should subside once your body adjusts.[3]
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    Improve your sleep. Although nightmares may cause sleep deprivation, sleep deprivation can also cause nightmares. Therefore, taking steps to improve the quality of your sleep can help to prevent nightmares.
    • Make your bedroom a relaxing environment. Keep your bedroom neat and tidy, make sure it's dark enough and avoid temperatures that are too hot or cold. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Use a white noise machine to block out any undesirable sounds. Reserve your bedroom for sleeping - working in your bedroom may cause you to associate it with stress.
    • Get more physical exercise. Tiring yourself out with physical exercise is a great way to improve your sleep. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether it's running, strength training, dancing, rowing or rock climbing and work out 3 to 5 times a week. Schedule it for the morning if you can. Just don't exercise right before bed - it will leave you too amped up for sleep.
    • Cut back on your caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake. These substances can interfere with your sleep, so it's a good idea to cut them out or at least cut down. Also try to avoid drinking, smoking or consuming caffeine less than 3 to 4 hours before bedtime.
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    Try imagery rehearsal treatment. Imagery rehearsal treatment is a type of cognitive therapy which has been found very effective in reducing nightmares in PTSD and insomnia patients.[1]
    • With imagery rehearsal treatment, the patient is encouraged to imagine an alternate ending to their nightmares - one with a more pleasant or satisfying outcome - while they are still awake.
      • For example, if you're dreaming you're being chased, you could imagine the monster that's chasing you, when it catches you, saying "tag, you're it" and it's really a game of tag.
      • If you're dreaming that you're falling, you could imagine that a parachute opens up and saves you.
    • Sometimes this is done orally, other times the patient is asked to write down, draw or paint the alternate ending to their nightmares.[3]

Part 3
Encouraging Pleasant Dreams

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    Find a happy place. Envision a happy, peaceful place - like a tropical beach or a secluded mountain top. You can make one up, or base it on somewhere real. No matter what or where it is, just make sure it's calm and relaxing. In addition to just envisioning the scenery, try to imagine the sounds, the smells and the overall atmosphere.
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    Think happy thoughts. As you drift off to sleep, try to think happy thoughts. They could be anything you like - try imagining yourself as a superhero saving the world, as a famous actor or actress or heading off on your dream holiday. It can also help to focus on your goals and envision yourself achieving them - getting that dream job, hitting your ideal weight or finding your true love.
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    Talk to someone about your dreams. Find someone who you trust, and explain your dreams. Also explain to them why they scare you. Just letting your feelings out can make things better. You can also keep track of your dreams in a dream journal, but be aware that sometimes it's more effective to talk to an actual person who you know is listening.
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    Attempt to manipulate your nightmare. See if you can manipulate your nightmare by making certain things happen and altering the outcome to make it less frightening or upsetting. This ability comes to some people faster than others, so don't be frustrated if you can't manage it at first.
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    Relax. Nightmares can also be caused by stress, such as wondering if you will get a job or not. Let go of your worries, and begin having happy dreams again. You can relax by either meditating, or having a nice day at the beach. Just make sure it's a quiet area where you can relax and chill out.


  • Watch something funny or cheerful before going to sleep.
  • Try not to think about frightening things which you think might happen.
  • Listening to happy or relaxing music before going to bed can help relieve your mind of negative thoughts. A happier dream will be more likely now that your mind is fixated on positive thoughts.
  • Think of good things that have happened in your life. Imagine great things that you can accomplish. Nothing but happy thoughts.
  • Have a dream catcher or gemstone for protection (amethyst) to help you physiologically forget about bad thoughts.
  • Remember that most all of your dreams are not real and could not happen in real life. Just relax, take some time to recuperate, put a big smile on your face, and greet another wonderful (normal) day.
  • Try to use herbal calming natural stuff to help calm your mind.
  • Try to let your body fall asleep on its own don't close your eyes and force sleep read until your feel tired then lay down with your eyes open until your body just kind of falls asleep (you won't know your sleeping till you have woken up in the morning)
  • Think of something fun in the future or in the past that was something fun or just keep a journal and write what you did that day (make it happy not bad).
  • Listen to music whilst sleeping.
  • If you have a nightmare in the middle of the night try to ask yourself how you got into the dream and how to turn the nightmare into a good dream.
  • You may have nightmares due to excessively thinking about the same thing which is bothering you or you taking a lot of stress. Try solving the issue which is bothering you. If that's not the case and you do not certainly have any stress issues to worry about, try consulting a doctor regarding it.


  • If the nightmare doesn't stop after one month, you should seek medical attention. You could be having nightmares because someone close had died, and in this case, it's very hard to get over it. If you are continually having problems getting over something in your life, and you consistently have nightmares about the subject, talk to a professional. They can help you.
  • In a few rare, extreme cases, a nightmare can terrify a person so greatly that they will be afraid to go to bed the next night or for several nights after having the nightmare. In subsequent nights, the person may either dread having the same or similar nightmare again, or the nightmare was so immensely terrifying that its images, scenes, thoughts and feelings are still in the person's waking thoughts, continuing to scare the person while trying to fall asleep. If this is the case, you could find a friend or roommate (if you're not married) to sleep in the company of, or talk to a doctor or someone you trust about this terrible dream you had. Listening to quiet, relaxing music as you go to sleep might help too.

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