How to Get Over Nightmares and Bad Dreams
Are Nightmares and Bad Dreams Spoiling Your Sleep?
Having a nightmare is a terrible experience. If you've not had one for a while, it's easy to forget the sensation of waking with spine-tingling terror, adrenalin pumping, so that you're scared to fall back to sleep in case it all kicks off again.
Some people have recurring bad dreams or nightmares. They want to break the cycle. What can be done?
The good news is, you can learn to manipulate your dreams. As with learning anything else, it may take time and practise, but it can work very well.
To clear a nightmare from your mind, you need to mentally re-write the ending. Let's say you dream you're falling from a great height, and wake with a jolt. Firstly, reassure yourself that you're safe and sound. Then picture the fall slowing down as an updraft of air holds your weight, like thermals carry eagles. See yourself spread your arms wide - you can swoop and change direction. This new experience feels good. You land gently in a field of flowers. Breathe deeply, enjoying the fresh air, the feel of solid ground beneath your feet.
Sidney had a recurring dream, not quite nightmare standard, but extremely unpleasant. It sounds comical that Sidney dreamed he was trapped inside a teapot. To him it felt horrendous, as he suffered from claustrophobia. He learned to overcome this scenario by imagining he could turn himself into vapour, and escape through the spout of the teapot. Logically, he knew this wasn't possible, but then, neither was being trapped in the first place. With practice, Sidney could recognise that he was dreaming, and change what happened. Instead of being trapped, he became free as a bird. The dream lost its power, and stopped occurring.
What Causes Nightmares and Bad Dreams?
If you're on medication, it's worth checking with your doctor if your dreams could be linked to side effects. Some anti-depressants and blood pressure pills are amongst those that can alter your dream state, so you may want to consider asking about different treatment.
Being over-tired can affect quality of sleep, and lead to more vivid dreaming. Stressful situations can play on your mind and result in unpleasant dreams. If you know you're under stress, work on relaxation strategies. Have a bubble bath, or foot massage, if there's a willing volunteer. A number of relaxation CDs available can be very helpful, notably, Eliminate Stress by Paul McKenna.
There are various opinions on eating shortly before bed. Some say anything difficult to digest can lead to problems, while others think that eating raises the metabolism, causing disrupted sleep and bad dreams.
The relevance and meaning of dreams cause some dispute. Some people think they can foretell the future. Others believe you can analyze the dream and learn to understand how parts came from real life experiences. It may be helpful to write down details of the dreams to think about during daylight hours. Often, a dream which seems troublesome at night is quickly forgotten once awake, but can leave you feeling unsettled without knowing why.
Then there is the idea that the brain fires off random neurons during sleep, and the mind forms these into some kind of sense. So really, they mean no more than imagining a face in the clouds. The mind constantly looks for things it can recognize.
Nightmares and bad dreams that regularly interfere with sleep are worth discussing with a doctor.
As it's your imagination that conjures up the dreams, try using it to overcome them.
More Suggested Solutions
Imagining you're caught on camera on a prank TV show can take the sting from a bad dream. If you dream that your car or house has been trashed, picture yourself glancing over to one side, seeing the TV presenter, the camera rolling. The presenter starts laughing, friends and family step into view to join in with the joke. Feel free to curse at their thoughtlessness. Then imagine you're presented with a new car, or offered a designer makeover for your home.
As many dreams have a cinematic quality, try using this to your advantage. If your dream finds you in a car chase, or haunted house, imagine you're an actor on set. Hear the director shout, "Cut!" People start clapping, the scene has gone well, you're the star. Take the applause, and wind down from the rush.
If one night you have a series of dreams that keep bugging you, preventing you from having a restful sleep, use the TV analogy again. This time, see yourself flicking through TV channels. Leave the irritating dreams channel behind and choose one you prefer. Maybe you'll pick a holiday programme, seeing waves lap gently on a beautiful beach, or watching a cat stretching lazily in the sun. Keep things laid back and low key to help relax.
Hopefully you can settle into a more peacful sleep, and wake refreshed. With some practice, you'll become a natural at calming your thoughts.