How to Wake Up from a Bad Dream

Three Parts:Becoming Lucid in your DreamWaking up from a Lucid DreamThwarting Future Nightmares

No! Stop! Get away! Between 4 to 8 percent of adults report having nightmares, some as often as once per week.[1] While physically harmless, nightmares can be terrifying experiences and a sign of larger problems with anxiety, trauma, or sleep cycles, especially if they are recurrent. There are ways to escape the experience, however. While your options are somewhat limited within the dream itself, you can, with care, learn to thwart your worst nightmares

Part 1
Becoming Lucid in your Dream

  1. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 1
    Do a “reality check.” The key to forcing yourself to wake up during a troubled dream is, in the first place, to realize that it is not real – that it is a dream. This is called becoming “lucid.” Lucid dreaming requires two things: dreaming and recognizing the fact that you are dreaming.[2]
    • The best technique to achieve this is to look, listen, and pay attention to details. Are you in a place or with people that you tend only to see in dreams? Does something not fit? Are you being chased by a monster or having a conversation with a long-dead relative? These are signs that you are dreaming.[3]
    • Always follow your reality check with the question, “Am I dreaming?” This will focus your mind squarely on apprehending if you are in a dream.[4]
  2. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 2
    Look for “dream signs.” Another related way to become lucid is to look for and recognize “dream signs.” This term was coined by a psychophysiologist named Stephen LaBerge to refer to elements of dreams that hint that you are dreaming.[5] Look around. Do you see anything out of the ordinary?
    • Some dream signs will be obvious. Anything supernatural like flying or breathing underwater, seeing alien worlds, or being able to understand a foreign language that you do not know is a dead give-away.
    • However, some dreams are incredibly realistic. Pay particular attention to your environment and behavior.
  3. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 3
    Decide that, yes, you are dreaming. Sometimes people who are a “pre-lucid” state decide incorrectly that they are not, in fact, in a dream. For example, if you try a “reality check” and pinch yourself but dream that you feel the pinch, you may conclude you are not dreaming. It is only when you have answered positively that you are lucid and able to exert some control over the dream.[6]

Part 2
Waking up from a Lucid Dream

  1. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 4
    Try to wake up. Once you have achieved lucidity, it is possible to act within and sometimes to control your dream. First of all, throw your head back and try to open your eyes. Concentrate on waking up. Use as much willpower as you can muster. Don't worry if this fails – in a lucid state you have many options.
    • If you want to wake up, read something like a book or a sign. Many people find that they cannot read during dreams or that the text changes. Concentrate on the words and the letters. This usually activates a portion of your brain that is disabled in REM sleep.[7]
  2. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 5
    Control the dream. Lucid dreaming allows you to realize that you are in control and often lets you direct a dream. The possibilities are, quite literally, endless. Exert your will toward changing the dream or at least the scenario. You might turn the tables on your nightmare, for example, by shrinking the monster that is chasing you.[8] You might also escape by flying away.
    • Try to blink. This will focus your mind on the act of waking. Close your eyes and wait a few seconds before reopening them. Try this several times.
    • You might also try to ignore the nightmare. Close your eyes, tightly and try to think about the real world or a different scenario. Think of your bedroom like what is it like when you wake up. Talk to yourself and then try to open your eyes.
    • If you can, escape the dream. You might try flying but also teleporting, willing yourself to a different location, running through a wall, or sinking down into the ground.
  3. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 6
    Wait out the dream. If all else fails, wait until the dream ends. Human dreaming occurs during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep, and we typically dream for only about two hours per night, broken up into several REM cycles.[9] Contrary to popular belief, moreover, time in dreams is not compressed. The activity in a dream takes about as long as if it were occurring in real time.[10] All you need to do, then, is to wait anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and the dream will naturally end.

Part 3
Thwarting Future Nightmares

  1. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 7
    Reduce your stress. It is fairly normal to have a bad dream once in a while. However, if you find that you are having recurrent nightmares, it may be a sign of an underlying problem in your life. You will have to treat this issue in order to thwart future troubled dreams. Are you very stressed, for example? Excessive anxiety can cause or exacerbate nightmares.[11]
    • Try to put your anxieties to rest before you go to bed and practice good sleep hygiene. For example, establish a relaxation routine for the evening. Have a regular sleep schedule. Play gentle music for a couple of hours before bed or take a soothing bath.
    • Don’t watch horror movies or read a disturbing book, as these may trigger bad dreams.[12]
    • You unfortunately cannot prevent your child from having nightmares. But you can be reassuring and set a similar routine for them. Put them to bed at the same time and make them feel safe, with a soothing bath beforehand, a hug, or a bedtime story. Make bed a comforting place, with their favorite stuffed animal or toy. Perhaps use a nightlight.[13]
  2. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 8
    Learn to have regular lucid dreams. It is possible to teach yourself to have habitual lucid dreams, and therefore to have more control whenever you have a bad one. One method is to envision yourself dreaming lucidly while awake. The idea is to increase your mindfulness and awareness so that, when you do dream, you are more likely to become lucid.[14]
    • Another method is called Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming or MILD. This is done in a waking state. When you wake up, do something active like reading or walking about the room, then lie down and go back to sleep. Then, make a clear intention to resume the dream lucidly, telling yourself that, the next time, you will remember you are dreaming.[15]
  3. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 9
    See a sleep specialist or psychologist. Sometimes recurrent nightmares are linked to serious disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, other mental illnesses, or to problems in the REM sleep cycle. These issues can be treated in a variety of ways depending on your situation, ranging from establishing better sleep routines to therapy or medication.
    • See a sleep specialist or psychologist if you think that your bad dreams are part of a pattern. You may have to undergo an in-patient sleep study or a psychological exam in order to get a diagnosis.[16]
  4. Image titled Wake Up from a Bad Dream Step 10
    “Script” your nightmares. Dream scripting or so-called “imagery rehearsal therapy” is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea is that a patient, while awake and working with a therapist, rewrites the ending to a remembered nightmare so that it is happy, or at least non-threatening. Then, they rehearse the ending in their minds so that the rescripted dream will supplant the original nightmare.[17]
    • Studies show that this type of treatment can significantly reduce the number of nightmares in patients, as well as symptoms of PTSD.[18]

Article Info

Categories: Dreams