Everyone needs a good night's sleep, but sometimes a dream can be so disturbing that it can make it difficult to fall asleep again. Some nightmares in particular are so disturbing that they seem to haunt you even when you are awake, affecting the quality of your daily life. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to forget a bad dream and prevent it from happening again.
Part 1 of 3: Dealing With Sleep Upon Waking Up
Step 1. Remember that dreams are not real
Nightmares can be caused by all kinds of random things, from food you ate before going to bed to something you saw on television, or even due to stress or problems in your life that are not related to sleep at all.
- There is no relationship between the bad (or good) things that happen in your dream and the things that will happen in your real life, so don't stress or worry about believing that your dream will predict the future. Although dreams are not related to the future, they are a reflection of the past and your current life: they reflect trauma, stress, memories and experiences that your mind tries to assimilate while you rest.
- When you wake up from a bad dream in the middle of the night, it is important that you immediately take your mind away from the dream and hold onto something in your reality. Think of whatever brings you joy in life: your family, your pets, your loved one, or a beautiful sunset. This is called "guided imagery," an intentional mental strategy to guide your mind in the right direction to relax.
Step 2. Breathe
Take it easy and just relax. Nightmares are known to produce psychological responses such as a racing heartbeat and a cold sweat. Practice some meditation techniques to take your mind off sleep and calm yourself enough to go back to sleep.
Practice deep abdominal breathing to relax your heart rate. Lie on your back, place your hand on your stomach and inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Let the air spread out to your stomach instead of your chest and then slowly push the air out with one hand over your pursed lips. Concentrate on the sensation that the air gives you when it enters and leaves your body
Step 3. Recite a calming mantra
When you were a young child, your mother or father probably comforted you when you had a bad dream. You can evoke the same feeling by reciting words of comfort to yourself when you wake up alone.
- It can be something as simple as "are you awake, are you safe, are you awake, are you safe." You can also recite the words as a calming poem ("Stop in the woods on a winter night" by Robert Frost is a good option) or the words of a calming song (nursery rhymes are often another good option)..
- If you are a religious person, you may prefer to recite scriptures or pray to feel comfortable in times of stress.
Part 2 of 3: Forgetting Sleep the Next Day
Step 1. Do something to stop thinking about the dream
Whether it's reading a book, watching TV, or calling your friends, take the time to relax and do whatever makes you happy.
If the theme of the dream does not leave your mind during the day, remind yourself that the dream is not real and that there is no reason to be afraid
Step 2. Vent your feelings
Since you want to forget the dream, talking about it may seem counterproductive. However, sometimes the only way to forget about a truly disturbing dream is to process what it means and why it bothers you by talking about it with a trusted friend.
- Tell someone you trust who you know will not laugh or make fun of you. Call your parents, email your friend, or say so in person. It is better to vent.
- A friend who knows your past and the current causes of stress in your life might be able to help you identify what causes dreams and why they bother you so much.
Step 3. Relax at bedtime
Most people can forget about their problems during the day, but they start to feel anxious again at bedtime because they don't want to experience something so disturbing again. As bedtime approaches, try to train your mind to calm down and focus on happy moments.
- Avoid violent television, movies, video games, or reading before going to bed, especially if you tend to watch or read suspense or horror material. These kinds of things can make your mind nervous and cause bad dreams, as your subconscious continues the thoughts that started while watching TV or reading the book.
- Avoid watching the nightly news or reading new stories online before going to sleep. Media news tends to focus on scary stories of crime, death and war, as these types of stories seem to attract more viewers, but watching the news can give you a distorted sense of reality. Media experts call it "the cruel world syndrome", and it is a tendency for people who watch a lot of news on television to believe that the world is more dangerous than it really is.
- Do whatever relaxes you the most. Have sex, read religious scriptures, read or watch calming or light books or series, take a long hot bath or have your partner massage you with pleasant scent oils or lotions.
Part 3 of 3: Preventing Bad Dreams
Step 1. Find out what causes bad dreams
Understanding what triggers your dreams can help you take steps to prevent them from happening.
- Dreams can be due to medications (especially narcotics, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications), food or drink (particularly alcohol, but your personal triggers can be anything), stressful events, fever or illness, or lack of sleep. Some people even experience nightmares if they wrap themselves up in too many sheets or too warm pajamas.
- Do you have a midnight snack before going to sleep? Although some people believed that only certain foods could cause nightmares (such as spicy food), scientists now believe that the act of eating itself causes an increase in sleep activity and nightmares and not a specific meal. Eating is believed to increase metabolism, which in turn increases your brain activity at a time when your brain is normally preparing for rest. This increased activity leads to an increase in dreams and nightmares.
- If you have recurring nightmares, write a dream journal that includes information about any medications, unusual foods or drinks, stressful life events or concerns, or illnesses that might have accompanied them.
Step 2. Practice stress relief strategies
Not only do bad dreams often reflect the stress or anxiety of your daily life, but they can also add to your stress load, potentially adding to your bad nightmares in a vicious cycle. Take time each day to relieve stress. Try these strategies:
- Practice mindful meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a strategy that focuses on the present moment rather than the past or future. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety, depression, or negative affect. Try yoga as a good way to learn mindfulness meditation.
- Exercise to relieve stress. Bad dreams can be due to stress or depression. Exercising is a great way to de-stress, so why not go for a jog in the park? Exercise can not only help you deal with stress (and therefore eliminate one of the potential causes of bad dreams), but it can also help you fall asleep faster and more soundly, which can also help you have fewer nightmares.
Step 3. Try to alter the environment in which you sleep
Changing your environment can help reduce your stress level, which in turn can help reduce your nightmares. It can also help make the atmosphere in your bedroom feel more reassuring when you wake up from a nightmare.
- Check the thermostat. Most people sleep best at a temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You may be tempted to turn up the heat on cold nights, but a lower temperature is better to get you a good night's sleep and may ward off nightmares.
- Wear thin pajamas or sleep naked and avoid using more sheets than necessary for sleeping. In fact, a thin sheet and blanket will probably do the trick. Remember that the goal is to keep your body temperature low so it doesn't get too high during the night.
- If you usually sleep in complete darkness, consider using a dim nightlight. It can help remind you when you wake up that you are safe and in your room. If you usually use a light, consider sleeping in complete darkness. Some people find the shadows produced by night lights to be disturbing.
- Consider having a comforting item. If you usually sleep alone, a stuffed animal can be a comfort when you get scared at night. And if you're concerned that stuffed animals are only for young children, consider that a survey in England found that one in four men traveled with stuffed animals in their suitcases.
Step 4. Accept some bad dreams as necessary
The mind processes stress and traumatic experiences through nightmares, so letting those dreams happen is an important part of dealing with the reality that caused them.
Instead of trying to quell all the bad dreams, try to get to the root of what is stressing you out and deal with it. Dreams will either disappear naturally or change to reflect your reality
Step 5. Consult with a therapist or general practitioner
In most cases, infrequent nightmares are totally normal and are just an unfortunate part of life that we have to deal with. However, for some people, this can signal an underlying problem, so see a specialist if the nightmares become problematic.
Persistent or recurring nightmares could suggest an anxiety disorder or a traumatic past or perhaps a mental disorder, and a therapist or doctor can help you deal with these types of problems. Remember that to stop nightmares you need to get to the root that causes them. Many therapists are trained to do this
- Hug something, like a stuffed animal or your pet, a friend, or a family member.
- Develop good sleep habits. Take a bath, read a book, or watch TV, and if you have a stuffed animal, hug it!
- Read a happy book, especially short children's books. These books tend to promote happy thoughts and take your mind off the nightmare.
- Don't stress too much about the nightmare, as as time goes on, it will get lost among other thoughts.