We've all had those freakishly realistic dreams where our teeth are falling out or we're being chased by a shadowy figure. Nothing can ruin a good night's sleep or taunt you for the next few days like a disturbing nightmare. Although virtually everyone has nightmares, that doesn't make it any easier when it happens. Whether you're a chronic bad dreamer or have nightmares once in a blue moon, knowing what's causing your nightmares can be the first step toward preventing them. Here are five ways you can avoid having bad dreams, so you can finally get that good night's sleep:
- Ease your mind
- Relax your body
- Adjust your diet
- Seek professional help
- Manage your dreams
How many times have you had nightmares about arriving late to an exam or forgetting something important, only to wake up in a sweat, relieved that it was just a dream? Anxiety and stress are common causes of bad dreams, and the best remedy for reducing those negative thoughts is putting your mind at ease. Write down your thoughts about what is worrying you, meditate to relax your mind, or pray if you are religious. You can even read a good book to put you in a better mood and distract you from your worries before you go to sleep.
Another good way to reduce anxiety and stress is by relaxing your body. When your body is relaxed, you'll feel relaxed. Doing a few minutes of stretching or yoga before bed will relax your muscles and relieve some stress. Even taking a soothing milk bath or rose petal bath should do the trick. Be sure to light up some lavender- or rose-scented candles while you're at it — studies have shown that pleasant scents can make for positive dreams!
Experts say increased metabolism and body temperature can lead to more brain activity, which can trigger bizarre dreams. Try to avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime, especially foods that are overly spicy or high in fat content. Your body should be at rest, not working hard to digest heavy foods! Excess consumption of alcohol has also been linked to bad dreams, so drink sparingly before bedtime.
Having a nightmare once in a while is completely normal. But if you're having nightmares more than once a week or having recurrent nightmares, you may want to seek medical advice. Sometimes side effects from taking certain types of drugs, like antidepressants and blood pressure medication, or sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea can increase the frequency of bad dreams. Chronic bad dreamers may be suffering from a traumatic event or posttraumatic stress disorder, in which case speaking to a therapist or psychiatrist is strongly recommended.
If all else fails and you can't avoid having bad dreams, then maybe the second-best option is to alter and better control the outcome of your nightmares when you do. Chronic bad dreamers often use imagery rehearsal therapy — writing down an altered version of a nightmare and then imagining this altered version for a few minutes each day — to find relief. Lucid dreaming, a technique in which you can use your sense of self to control your dream, can also be used to alter the course of your nightmare.