We all look forward to those few hours of restful sleep after a long day at work.  For some of us, however, sleep time can become a distressing experience if we suffer from nightmares. It’s not just children who are troubled by nightmares; these scary dreams are known to rattle almost 50 percent of the adults too. There are many reasons why we get nightmares. In this article, we shall discuss the various reasons why we suffer from bad dreams and how to stop nightmares. Let us first understand what a nightmare is?

What is a nightmare?

A nightmare is a scary dream that can cause terror, distress and anxiety. Nightmares can often cause the sleeper to wake up with a feeling of terror. Many of us are also able to recall the scary dream vividly.

Nightmares occur during the REM phase of our sleep. During the Rapid Eye Movement phase, our brain is relatively active; our eyes move rapidly, but our muscles are in a state of paralysis.

Not much is known about why we dream and why some of our dreams turn into nightmares. Some experts believe that dreams are a way for our brain to sort out our memories or the things we have experienced during the day.

Why do we have nightmares?

1. Late night snack

A late-night snack can boost your metabolism and activate your brain, and this may lead to nightmares. If you notice that you have more nightmares after you have taken a late-night snack, try and avoid it.

2. Sleep deprivation

Lack of sleep can cause nightmares and nightmares can cause people to lose sleep. So, it is, in fact, a vicious circle which needs to be remedied by following proper sleep hygiene.

3. Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal from certain medications and other substances like alcohol and tranquillisers can trigger nightmares. You must consult your doctor if you experience scary dreams due to withdrawal from these substances.

4. Medications

Certain medications like anti-depressants and some blood pressure medications can affect the chemicals in the brain and cause nightmares.

5. Sleep disorders

Specific sleep disorder like DSPD, DSPS, REM, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can also cause nightmares.

6. Psychological issues

Stress and other mental problems like post-traumatic stress disorder can also trigger nightmares in adults. Psychological counselling can help in such cases.

How to stop nightmares?

Nightmares can have a serious effect on our health. Lack of adequate sleep due to scary dreams can cause other health issues like heart disease, depression and obesity. Nightmares that are a result of some psychological issues can further deteriorate your mental health.

Here are some of the common ways to avoid nightmares:

1. Destress your mind

Destress and relax before you get into bed. Exercise or do some sporting activity at least three or four times a week. Listen to some pleasant, relaxing music or read a book before you sleep. Avoid reading any horror stories at this time.

2. Medications

If you suspect it is your medication that is causing nightmares, you must consult your doctor at once.  Your doctor can adjust the dosage or prescribe a new drug for your ailment.

3. Sleep in a comfortable bed

Uncomfortable mattresses and beds can also contribute to nightmares. You are more likely to sleep well if you have a comfortable bed. Change your bedding if it makes you uncomfortable during the night.

Try to avoid sleeping on your back as this position seems to encourage nightmares.

4. Avoid late night snacks

Late night snacks can boost your metabolism and activate your brain during the night. This can trigger nightmares when you eventually sleep. Also avoid high energy drinks, coffee, tea and alcohol later in the night as they make it harder to get a restful sleep.

5. Stick to a routine

People experience more nightmares when they are overtired. So, avoid too many late nights and stick to a regular sleeping schedule.

6. Add some fragrance

Pleasant fragrances contribute to pleasant dreams. So, add some fresh flowers or sprinkle some aromatic oils in your bedroom and enjoy pleasant dreams instead of nightmares.

7. Add white noise

Loud and jarring sounds trouble us when we are awake and can have a similar effect while we sleep. Similarly, pleasant sounds like the chirping of birds, waves of the ocean and raindrops can make our sleep experience peaceful. Add these pleasant sounds in your room to prevent nightmares.

8. Avoid scary movies or books

This seems pretty obvious, but many of us do not realise how much horror movies and scary books can affect our subconscious mind. Our brain can exaggerate what we see, and this can turn into nightmares. So, avoid scary videos and books at bedtime.

9. Self-assessment

You must try to analyse your dream to understand what is triggering it. Whether you are falling off a cliff or a monster is chasing you, it is usually some event during the day that has affected your dream. Once you have understood what triggered the nightmare, you can always work on removing the trigger.

10. Seek professional help

In some cases, nightmares can cause severe anxiety. Such people show symptoms similar to PTSD. These people can also suffer from visual and auditory hallucinations.

Self-treatment and medication can cause a lot of harm. In such cases, it is essential to consult a professional.

Final words on avoiding bad dreams

Though we all suffer from occasional nightmares, it can become a severe problem if nightmares become too frequent. Follow these tips and tricks for a more peaceful and nightmare-free sleep.