When nightmares are an occasional occurrence, they are manageable, but when a person experiences chronic nightmares, it can have an impact on their health and mental wellbeing.
Nightmares are more common for children than they are for adults, and the frequency of nightmares will usually diminish as you get older.
However, a small percentage of adults do experience problems with frequent nightmares.
If you are one of that small percentage that has continued to experience nightmares on a regular basis into adulthood, there may be a few things you can try to combat them.
1. Improve Sleep Hygiene
If you find it difficult to get to sleep and going to bed is a frustrating experience, this can contribute to problems that you may have with nightmares.
To improve your sleep and reduce the anxiety that may be associated with going to sleep, you need to take steps to improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to the conditions under which you sleep and the behaviours associated with going to sleep.
Good sleep hygiene tips include not drinking caffeine before bed, developing a sleeping area that is good for rest, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and keeping a bed that is comfortable with clean blankets and linens.
2. Recognize That Dreams Don’t Necessarily Have Meaning
Humans have been looking to their dreams for meaning almost as far back as recorded history.
In some cultures, it was believed that dreams were prophetic visions that could provide insights into the future, and in more recent times, dream analysis has been used as a tool for psychotherapy.
The truth about dreams is that they don’t necessarily have meaning.
While the exact purpose of dreaming still eludes researchers, recent findings have helped to unlock some of the secrets.
Researchers have found that dreams appear to have a relation to the process by which our brains store long-term memories.
As you sleep, your brain sorts through the experiences of the day.
When you dream, you experience a confused version of the memories and experiences that your brain is processing.
3. Don’t Dwell On Your Nightmares
Most dreams are forgotten within a few moments of waking up.
However, a disturbing nightmare might stick with you a little more than a dream that is comparatively benign.
Unfortunately, thinking about a bad dream is more likely to give it fuel and it will increase the chance that similar dreams will occur.
Instead of dwelling on a nightmare and looking for meaning in it, remind yourself that it is just a dream.
Focusing on the nightmare tells your mind that the information is important, and that makes it prime to recur when you sleep again.
Once you know most dreams have no meaning, it is much easier to put these thoughts aside and move on with your day.
4. Change The Script
If you have nightmares, one way to take control is to envision the way that you want the dream to end.
This is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment called Imagery Rehearsal Therapy.
With IRT, a nightmare sufferer would think of the normal script that a nightmare follows and then think of an alternate way that they would want the dream to transpire.
By focusing on the alternate version of the dream, you tell your mind that this is the more important story.
This should cause the preferred version of the dream to replace the nightmare.
5. Try Lucid Dreaming
One way to potentially change your dreams or combat nightmares is to try lucid dreaming.
This is a dream where the individual becomes aware that they are in a dream.
It does require the individual to become more familiar with the content of the dreams which does run counter to most of the advice that you would get about overcoming nightmares but it can be helpful for some individuals.
To use lucid dreaming as a technique to combat nightmares, you have to train yourself to recognize the dream state.
Once you are capable of recognizing the difference between the dreaming and waking worlds, you can then take more control over the dream.
6. Identify Contributing Factors
For many people, chronic nightmares do have a cause or factors that contribute to the problem.
Various medical and mental health conditions can cause or contribute to problems with nightmares.
Stress and anxiety can be factors that could contribute to the frequency of nightmares.
In some cases, eating before bed can trigger brain activity that will lead to nightmares.
There are also prescription medications that are known to increase the risk of nightmares.
If you find an identifiable cause that is contributing to the problem, you might be able to get rid of your nightmares by treating the underlying cause.
Bad dreams don’t need to ruin your waking life.
In most cases, nightmares can be overcome by keeping them in perspective with the rest of your life and by making some minor adjustments to your lifestyle.
If you suspect that your nightmares might be the result of a medical or mental health problem, then you need to speak with your doctor.
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