Ways to stop nightmares, check details here!

Nightmares are rather common phenomena. They are described as disturbing dreams associated with negative feelings, such as fear and anxiety. They often tend to be vividly realistic and very disturbing. This might cause a person to wake up suddenly from deep sleep. This can lead to heightened heart beat and pulse rate. Nightmares can get very strong emotional response from the mind. Given how uncomfortable nightmares can be, are there some easy ways to stop nightmares? We will discuss this further in this article.

It should be noted that while nightmares are more common in children, adults can experience them as well.

What are different sleep stages?

While at rest, we cycle through different stages that are classified as either REM or Non-REM (NREM) sleep. Generally the full cycle is repeated three to four times throughout the night.

The non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep begins first and is broken up into three stages: N1, N2, and N3.

  • N1 is very short and does not usually last for more than 10 minutes. This stage occurs immediately after dozing off. It is a light sleep that one can easily wake up from.
  • During N2, the muscles get more relaxed and slow-wave brain activity may start as well. This stage can last for 30-60 minutes.
  • The final stage of NREM, N3, goes on for 20-40 minutes. It is a phase of deeper rest in which the delta brain activity increases. There is also a possibility of body movements. Delta waves are the slowest form of brain activity and are linked to restorative sleep.

Rapid eye movement (REM), follows NREM and is a deeper sleep. During this time, eyelids tend to flutter and the breathing might become irregular. According to University of Michigan Health, most of the dreams occur during REM sleep, and that includes nightmares.

What causes nightmares?

Despite our unique lives and experiences research shows people tend to share quite a bit of subject matter in nightmares.

A 2014 University of Montreal study, analyzed 253 nightmares and 431 bad dreams. It was seen that physical aggression was the most prevalent theme in nightmares, along with death, health and threats. While men tend to have nightmares that involve themes of natural disasters and war, women showed higher frequency of interpersonal conflicts. While fear was a common emotion evoked by nightmares, a significant portion of subjects also displayed feelings of sadness, confusion, fear or disgust.

Similar themes were found in a previous German study, which identified the five most common nightmare themes as falling, being chased, being paralyzed, being late and death of family or friends.

wayts to avoid nightmares
Image Credit: amerisleep.com

 

There could be various reasons that cause nightmares. Some of the common ones are mentioned below:

  • Recent or past experiences
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Media experiences
  • Depression
  • Environment
  • Personality
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Medications
  • Eating before bed
  • Sleep disorder or deprivation
  • Migraine

It should be noted that having a nightmare once in a while is not a problem and rather is very common. It becomes a thing of concern only when the nightmares become frequent enough to disrupt regular sleep. Not getting enough sleep can also also affect the quality of life as well.

What are the ways to stop nightmares?

  • Having a proper bed-time routine: Nightmares occur during rapid eye movement sleep. Waking up during REM sleep enables recollection of the dream and results in distress. One of the most effective ways to treat nightmare problems in adults is to get them sleeping more soundly so that they wake up less often.
    A healthy sleep routine begets sound sleep. A sleep routine can be established by exercising, setting regular sleep and waking times, ensuring that the room is dark and cool, avoiding stimulating beverages after mid-afternoon and engaging in relaxing activities. Keeping a regular bedtime and waking time throughout the week is a key part of supporting your internal clock, as is daily moderate exercise, daily sunlight exposure and a regular evening relaxation routine.
  • Talking or writing things out: Some psychologists believe talking about dreams and getting social support to put them in perspective is key to reducing anxiety following nightmares. This might take the form of talking out dreams with a therapist, discussing them with a partner or in a group setting, or via independent journaling. Real-life concerns often emerge as nightmares. Writing them down helps in two ways. It will help view the concerns more objectively in the written format. It is also a way to get things off the chest. The worries and tensions don’t fade completely, but it might take a load off the chest.
  • Managing stress levels: The American Psychological Association’s 2013 “Stress in America” poll found that stress was associated with poorer sleep, and that poorer sleep was also associated with higher stress. It is important to take a few minutes to de-stress before bed. One can try a warm bath or other techniques. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is another method recommended by AASM for nightmares. It involves gradually tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles all over the body to reduce stress and tension. Avoid watching or reading things comprised of common nightmare fodder close to bed. Scary movie, suspenseful book or unsettling news broadcast could wind up in nightmares. Calming exercises such as meditating, mindful breathing or silencing your thoughts can also be very helpful.
  • Eating healthy before bed: Eating or snacking boosts metabolism and causes the brain to be more active instead of unwinding. An active mind can lead to nightmares. So, food consumption before bed should be carefully monitored. Beverages like coffee or alcohol can also lead to restlessness and disturbed sleep. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn’t relax you. In the long run, the effects are quite the opposite. It is also important that hot coffee or tea is avoided after 2 pm. Caffeine is a stimulant and it can cause sleep distress by increasing the adrenaline production. As a result, the brain may become more active and leads to bad dreams.

What are treatment options for nightmares?

Treatment for nightmares isn’t usually necessary. However, treatment may be needed if the nightmares are causing you distress or sleep disturbance and interfering with your daytime functioning.

The cause of the nightmare disorder helps determine treatment. Treatment options may include:

  • Medical treatment. If the nightmares are associated with an underlying medical condition, treatment is aimed at the underlying problem.
  • Stress or anxiety treatment. If a mental health condition, such as stress or anxiety, seems to be contributing to the nightmares, your doctor may suggest stress-reduction techniques, counseling or therapy with a mental health professional.
  • Imagery rehearsal therapy. Often used with people who have nightmares as a result of PTSD, imagery rehearsal therapy involves changing the ending to your remembered nightmare while awake so that it’s no longer threatening. You then rehearse the new ending in your mind. This approach may reduce the frequency of nightmares.
  • Medication. Medication is rarely used to treat nightmares. However, medication may be recommended for severe nightmares associated with PTSD.
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