Living with Chronic Pain

Tips for Dealing With Nightmares


Nightmares can cause distress and interrupt sleep. They can occur for no apparent reason or can be caused by psychological triggers or sleep deprivation. They can also occur as a result of the use of medications, such as antidepressants and narcotics. Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, can also cause nightmares.

Some tips for dealing with nightmares include the following:

  • Treat the cause. If nightmares are a side effect of a medication, discuss this with a physician or pharmacist to determine if a different dosage or type of medication is available. If nightmares are the result of a sleep disorder, treating the underlying sleep disorder may eliminate the issue.
  • Establish a relaxing nighttime routine. Try reading a book or taking a warm bath before bed to relax. Meditation or deep breathing exercises can help decrease stress levels at bedtime.
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule. Practicing good sleep hygiene, including going to bed and waking at the same time each day, can help prevent sleep deprivation, which is linked to nightmares.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. These substances can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Avoid eating before going to sleep. Eating affects brain activity and metabolism in ways that can cause dreams, including nightmares. Increasing the amount of time between the last meal or snack of the day and bedtime may help.
  • Change the ending. After waking from a nightmare, try to think of an alternate, happy ending for the nightmare. Focus on that version of the dream instead.
  • Try counseling or therapy. Therapy can help treat nightmares. If nightmares are a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), imagery rehearsal therapy or an alpha blocker medication may help. If nightmares are caused by stress or anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy may be beneficial.

These tips can help individuals cope with or even prevent nightmares, promoting quality sleep.

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