Having constant nightmares

Adult Nightmares: Causes and Treatments

Written by Hilary Parker

In this Article

  • What Are Nightmares?
  • What Causes Nightmares in Adults?
  • What Are the Health Effects of Nightmares in Adults?
  • Treatments for Nightmares in Adults

When you wake up terrified from a disturbing nightmare, you might think you're the only adult who has them. After all, aren't adults supposed to outgrow nightmares?

While it's true nightmares are more common among children, one out of every two adults has nightmares on occasion. And between 2% and 8% of the adult population is plagued by nightmares.

Are your nightmares causing you significant distress? Are they interrupting your sleep on a regular basis? If so, it's important to determine what's causing your adult nightmares. Then you can make changes to reduce their occurrence.

What Are Nightmares?

Nightmares are vividly realistic, disturbing dreams that rattle you awake from a deep sleep. They often set your heart pounding from fear. Nightmares tend to occur most often during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreaming takes place. Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find you experience nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

The subjects of nightmares vary from person to person. There are, though, some common nightmares that many people experience. For example, a lot of adults have nightmares about not being able to run fast enough to escape danger or about falling from a great height. If you've gone through a traumatic event, such as an attack or accident, you may have recurrent nightmares about your experience.

Although nightmares and night terrors both cause people to awake in great fear, they are different. Night terrors typically occur in the first few hours after falling asleep. They are experienced as feelings, not dreams, so people do not recall why they are terrified upon awakening.

What Causes Nightmares in Adults?

Nightmares in adults are often spontaneous. But they can also be caused by a variety of factors and underlying disorders.

Some people have nightmares after having a late-night snack, which can increase metabolism and signal the brain to be more active. A number of medications also are known to contribute to nightmare frequency. Drugs that act on chemicals in the brain, such as antidepressants and narcotics, are often associated with nightmares. Non-psychological medications, including some blood pressure medications, can also cause nightmares in adults.

Withdrawal from medications and substances, including alcohol and tranquilizers, may trigger nightmares. If you notice a difference in your nightmare frequency after a change in medication, talk with your doctor.

Sleep deprivation may contribute to adult nightmares, which themselves often cause people to lose additional sleep. Though it's possible, it has not been confirmed whether this cycle could lead to nightmare disorder.

There can be a number of psychological triggers that cause nightmares in adults. For example, anxiety and depression can cause adult nightmares. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly causes people to experience chronic, recurrent nightmares.

Nightmares in adults can be caused by certain sleep disorders. These include sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. If no other cause can be determined, chronic nightmares may be a distinct sleep disorder. People who have relatives with nightmare disorder may be more likely to have the condition themselves.

What Are the Health Effects of Nightmares in Adults?

Nightmares become much more than bad dreams when they have a significant effect on your health and well-being. Among people who experience nightmares, those who are anxious or depressed are more likely to be distressed about the experience and suffer even more psychological ill effects. Although the relationship is not understood, nightmares have been associated with suicide. Because nightmares may have a significant impact on your quality of life, it's important to consult a medical professional if you experience them regularly.

Sleep deprivation, which can be caused by nightmares, can cause a host of medical conditions, including heart disease, depression, and obesity.

If nightmares in adults are a symptom of untreated sleep apnea or post-traumatic stress disorder, the underlying disorders can also have significant negative effects on physical and mental health.

Treatments for Nightmares in Adults

Fortunately, there are steps you and your doctor can take to lessen the frequency of your nightmares and the effect they are having on your life. First, if your nightmares are the result of a particular medication, you may be able to change your dosage or prescription to eliminate this unwanted side effect.

For people whose nightmares are caused by conditions such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, treating the underlying disorder may help alleviate symptoms.

If your nightmares aren't illness- or medication-related, don't despair. Behavioral changes have proven effective for 70% of adults who suffer from nightmares, including those caused by anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Imagery rehearsal treatment is a promising cognitive behavioral therapy for recurrent nightmares and nightmares caused by PTSD. The technique helps chronic sufferers change their nightmares by rehearsing how they would like them to transpire. In some cases, medications may be used in conjunction with therapy to treat PTSD-related nightmares, though their efficacy has not been demonstrated as clearly as that of imagery rehearsal treatment.

There are a number of other steps you can take on your own that may help reduce your nightmare frequency. Keeping a regular wake-sleep schedule is important. So is engaging in regular exercise, which will help alleviate nightmare-causing anxiety and stress. You may find that yoga and meditation are also helpful.

Remember to practice good sleep hygiene, which will help prevent the sleep deprivation that can bring on nightmares in adults. Make your bedroom a relaxing, tranquil place that is reserved for sleep and sex, so that you don't associate it with stressful activities. Also, be cautious about the use of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, which can remain in your system for more than 12 hours and often disrupt sleep patterns.

Nightmares: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Dreaming is one of the most complicated and mysterious aspects of sleep. While dreams can include visions of grandeur and bliss, they can also be scary, threatening, or stressful.

When a bad dream causes you to wake up, it’s known as a nightmare. It’s normal to occasionally have a nightmare or bad dream, but for some people, they recur frequently, disrupting sleep and negatively impacting their waking life as well.

Knowing the differences between bad dreams, nightmares, and nightmare disorder is a first step to addressing the causes of nightmares, starting appropriate treatment, and getting better sleep.

What Are Nightmares?

In sleep medicine, nightmares have a more strict definition than in everyday language. This definition helps distinguish nightmares from bad dreams: while both involve disturbing dream content, only a nightmare causes you to wake up from sleep.

Nightmares are vivid dreams that may be threatening, upsetting, bizarre, or otherwise bothersome. They occur more often during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep associated with intense dreaming. Nightmares arise more frequently in the second half of the night when more time is spent in REM sleep.

Upon waking up from a nightmare, it’s normal to be acutely aware of what happened in the dream, and many people find themselves feeling upset or anxious. Physical symptoms like heart rate changes or sweating may be detected after waking up as well.

What Is Nightmare Disorder?

While most people have nightmares from time to time, nightmare disorder occurs when a person has frequent nightmares that interfere with their sleep, mood, and/or daytime functioning. It is a sleep disorder known as a parasomnia. Parasomnias include numerous types of abnormal behaviors during sleep.

People who have occasional nightmares don’t have nightmare disorder. Instead, nightmare disorder involves recurring nightmares that bring about notable distress in their daily life.


Are Nightmares Normal?

It’s normal for both children and adults to have bad dreams and nightmares every now and again. For example, a study found that 47% of college students had at least one nightmare in the past two weeks.

Nightmare disorder, though, is far less common. Research studies estimate that about 2%-8% of adults have problems with nightmares.

Frequent nightmares are more common in children than in adults. Nightmares in children are most prevalent between the ages of 3 and 6 and tend to occur less often as children get older. In some cases, though, nightmares persist into adolescence and adulthood.

Nightmares affect males and females, although women are generally more likely to report having nightmares, especially during adolescence through middle age.

Why Do We Have Nightmares?

There is no consensus explanation for why we have nightmares. In fact, there is an ongoing debate in sleep medicine and neuroscience about why we dream at all. Many experts believe that dreaming is part of the mind’s methods for processing emotion and consolidating memory. Bad dreams, then, may be a component of the emotional response to fear and trauma, but more research is needed to definitively explain why nightmares occur.

How Are Nightmares Different From Sleep Terrors?

Sleep terrors, sometimes called night terrors, are another type of parasomnia in which a sleeper appears agitated and frightened during sleep. Nightmares and sleep terrors have several distinguishing characteristics:

  • Nightmares happen during REM sleep while sleep terrors happen during non-REM (NREM) sleep.
  • Sleep terrors don’t involve a full awakening; instead, a person remains mostly asleep and difficult to awaken. If awakened, they likely will be disoriented. In contrast, when a person wakes up from a nightmare, they tend to be alert and aware of what was happening in their dream.
  • The following day, a person with nightmares usually has a clear memory of the dream. People with sleep terrors very rarely have any awareness of the episode.
  • Nightmares are more common in the second half of the night while sleep terrors happen more often in the first half.


Many different factors can contribute to a higher risk of nightmares:

  • Stress and anxiety: Sad, traumatic, or worrisome situations that induce stress and fear may provoke nightmares. People with chronic stress and anxiety may be more likely to develop nightmare disorder.
  • Mental health conditions: Nightmares are often reported at much higher rates by people with mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. People with PTSD often have frequent, intense nightmares in which they relive traumatic events, worsening symptoms of PTSD, and often contributing to insomnia.
  • Certain drugs and medications: Using some types of illicit substances or prescription medications that affect the nervous system is associated with a higher risk of nightmares.
  • Withdrawal from some medications: Some medications suppress REM sleep, so when a person stops taking those medications, there is a short-term rebound effect of more REM sleep accompanied by more nightmares.
  • Sleep deprivation: After a period of insufficient sleep, a person often experiences a REM rebound, that can trigger vivid dreams and nightmares.
  • Personal history of nightmares: In adults, a risk factor for nightmare disorder is a history of having had recurring nightmares during childhood and adolescence.

Though not fully understood, a genetic predisposition may exist that makes it more likely for frequent nightmares to run in a family. This association may be driven by genetic risk factors for mental health conditions that are tied to nightmares.

Some evidence indicates that people who have nightmares may have altered sleep architecture, meaning that they progress abnormally through sleep stages. Some studies have also found a correlation between nightmares and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a breathing disorder that causes fragmented sleep, although further research is needed to clarify this association.

Are Nightmares Connected To Waking Activity?

Nightmares can have a clear connection to things that happen while you’re awake. Nightmares tied to anxiety and stress, especially PTSD, may involve flashbacks or imagery that is directly linked to traumatic events.

However, not all nightmares have an easily identified relationship to waking activity. Nightmares can have bizarre or bewildering content that is difficult to trace to any specific circumstances in a person’s life.

Can Nightmares Affect Sleep?

Nightmares, especially recurrent nightmares, can have a significant impact on a person’s sleep. People with nightmare disorder are more likely to suffer from decreases in both sleep quantity and quality.

Sleep problems can be induced by nightmares in several ways. People who have nighttime disruptions from nightmares may wake up feeling anxious, making it hard to relax their mind and get back to sleep. Fear of nightmares may cause sleep avoidance and less time allocated to sleep.

Unfortunately, these steps can make nightmares worse. Sleep avoidance can cause sleep deprivation, which can provoke a REM sleep rebound with even more intense dreams and nightmares. This often leads to further sleep avoidance, giving rise to a pattern of disturbed sleep that culminates in insomnia.

Nightmares may exacerbate mental health conditions that can worsen sleep, and insufficient sleep can give rise to more pronounced symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety.

Insufficient sleep connected to nightmares and nightmare disorder can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, mood changes, and worsened cognitive function, all of which can have a substantial negative impact on a person’s daytime activities and quality of life.

When Should You See a Doctor About Nightmares?

Because it’s common to have an occasional nightmare, some people may find it hard to know when nightmares are a cause for concern. You should talk to your doctor about nightmares if:

  • Nightmares happen more than once a week
  • Nightmares affect your sleep, mood, and/or daily activity
  • Nightmares begin at the same time that you start a new medication

To help your doctor understand how nightmares are affecting you, you can keep a sleep diary that tracks your total sleep and sleep disruptions, including nightmares.


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How Is Nightmare Disorder Treated?

Infrequent nightmares don’t normally need any treatment, but both psychotherapy and medications can help people who have nightmare disorder. By reducing nightmares, treatments can promote better sleep and overall health.

Treatment for nightmares should always be overseen by a health professional who can identify the most appropriate therapy based on a patient’s overall health and the underlying cause of their nightmares.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a category of treatment that works to understand and reorient negative thinking. Talk therapy has broad applications in addressing mental health disorders and sleeping problems like insomnia.

Many types of psychotherapy fall under the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), including a specialized form of CBT for insomnia (CBT-I) that may be used to treat nightmares. A central component of CBT is reorienting negative thoughts and feelings and modifying detrimental patterns of behavior.

There are numerous types of talk therapy and CBT that may help reduce nightmares:

  • Image Rehearsal Therapy: This approach involves rewriting a recurring nightmare into a script that is rewritten and then rehearsed when awake in order to change how it unfolds and impacts the sleeper.
  • Lucid Dreaming Therapy: In a lucid dream, a person is actively aware that they are dreaming. Lucid dreaming therapy seizes on this idea to give a person the ability to positively modify the content of a nightmare through their awareness of it in the moment.
  • Exposure and Desensitization Therapies: Because many nightmares are driven by fears, a number of approaches utilize controlled exposure to that fear to reduce the emotional reaction to it. Examples of these techniques to “face your fears” include self-exposure therapy and systematic desensitization.
  • Hypnosis: This approach creates a relaxed, trance-like mental state in which a person can more easily take in positive thoughts to combat stress.
  • Progressive deep muscle relaxation: While not a direct form of talk therapy, progressive deep muscle relaxation is a technique for calming the mind and body. It involves deep breathing and a sequence of tension and release in muscles throughout the body. Relaxation methods like this are a tool developed in talk therapy to counteract stress buildup.

Behavioral recommendations associated with talk therapy frequently involve changes to sleep hygiene. This includes making the bedroom more conducive to sleep as well as cultivating daily routines and habits that facilitate consistent sleep.

Many psychotherapies for nightmares involve a combination of methods. Examples include CBT-I, Sleep Dynamic Therapy and Exposure, Relaxation, and Rescripting Therapy (ERRT). Mental health professionals can tailor talk therapy for nightmares to fit a patient, including, when appropriate, account for a coexisting mental health disorder.


Several types of prescription medications may be used to treat nightmare disorder. Most often, these are medications that affect the nervous system such as anti-anxiety, antidepressant, or antipsychotic drugs. Different medications may be used for people who have nightmares associated with PTSD.

Medications benefit some patients, but they can also come with side effects. For that reason, it is important to talk with a doctor who can describe the potential benefits and downsides of prescription drugs for nightmare disorder.

How Can You Help Stop Nightmares and Get Better Sleep?

If you have nightmares that interfere with your sleep or daily life, the first step is to talk with your doctor. Identifying and addressing an underlying cause can help make nightmares less frequent and less bothersome.

Whether nightmares are common or occasional, you may get relief from improving sleep hygiene. Building better sleep habits is a component of many therapies for nightmare disorder and can pave the way for high-quality sleep on a regular basis.

There are many elements of sleep hygiene, but some of the most important ones, especially in the context of nightmares, include:

  • Following a consistent sleep schedule: Having a set bedtime and sleep schedule helps keep your sleep stable, preventing sleep avoidance and nightmare-inducing REM rebound after sleep deprivation.
  • Utilizing relaxation methods: Finding ways to wind down, even basic deep breathing, can help decrease the stress and worry that give rise to nightmares.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine can stimulate your mind, which makes it harder to relax and fall asleep. Drinking alcohol close to bedtime can induce a REM rebound in the second half of the night that may worsen nightmares. As much as possible, it’s best to avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
  • Reducing screen time before bed: Using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop before bed can amp up your brain activity and make it difficult to fall asleep. If the screen time involves negative or worrying imagery, it may make nightmares more likely. To avoid this, create a bedtime routine with no screen time for an hour or more before going to sleep.
  • Creating a comforting sleep environment: Your bedroom should promote a sense of calm with as few distractions or disruptions as possible. Set a comfortable temperature, block out excess light and sound, and set up your bed and bedding to be supportive and inviting.
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About Our Editorial Team

Eric Suni

Staff Writer

Eric Suni has over a decade of experience as a science writer and was previously an information specialist for the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Abhinav Singh

Sleep Physician


Dr. Singh is the Medical Director of the Indiana Sleep Center. His research and clinical practice focuses on the entire myriad of sleep disorders.


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See More

How to get rid of nightmares?

A nightmare is a kind of dream, a disturbing and frightening dream. In the form of nightmares, reality is displayed and interpreted - in this way the brain processes information for the past day and the entire previous life of a person. That is why very often in a dream we see people whom we met the day before and re-live old events. Nightmares can indicate both mental problems and developing serious illnesses, as well as non-compliance with sleep hygiene. Nightmares can be triggered by stress, traumatic events, or mental disorders such as PTSD or depression.

Causes of nightmares

In the case of nightmares, it is important to pay particular attention to their duration and regularity. Nightmares can have physical causes, such as sleeping in an uncomfortable position or a fever, or psychological causes, such as stress or anxiety. Nightmares can be provoked by a complex problem that does not have a quick solution. Nightmares can be affected by a lack of regular exercise, a poor diet, insufficient water intake, tension in the neck, shoulders or back, alcohol use and use of gadgets before bed, intrusive thoughts that cause painful emotions, and the inability to regulate psychological and emotional load.

If nightmares become regular, interfere with life, and a person wakes up broken and tired over and over again, this may be a symptom of a psychiatric illness.

Eating before bed causes an increase in metabolism and brain activity, and can be a potential stimulus for nightmares. For example, it happens that nightmares occur after a heavy dinner and drinking alcohol. The body and the brain are connected: the stomach digests food, and the brain processes the information received from the stomach, and due to excessive stress on the brain, a person may have a nightmare.

Sometimes a person sees the same nightmares, and they are repeated from day to day. If nightmares become regular, interfere with life, and a person wakes up broken and tired over and over again, this may be a symptom of a psychiatric illness. For example, people with depression sometimes have shallow sleep, their brains don't get enough rest, and this can lead to nightmares. Also, nightmares occur with sleep disorders, namely, with insomnia. Nightmares are also often experienced by people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction - their normal sleep cycle is disturbed. A recurring nightmare often indicates chronic diseases in the body, such as gastritis, migraine, neuralgia, and pain in the heart.

See also

How to get rid of insomnia without the help of sleeping pills?

Another common cause of nightmares is a traumatic event or post-traumatic stress disorder. Very often, nightmares are seen by women who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood or adulthood, as well as aggression from a partner. Night terrors are rare in children under 5 years of age. Much more often they appear in those who study in the lower grades. Children who have experienced tragedy, such as the death of a family member, close friend or acquaintance, are more likely to have nightmares than those who experience only the stress of school or everyday life.

Prevention of nightmares

You can start fighting bad dreams on your own. First of all, it is advisable not to eat one and a half to two hours before bedtime. An uncomfortable bed, poor ventilation, inappropriate light or sound in the bedroom are very often the reasons why people have nightmares in their dreams. The bed should contribute to the correct position of the spine during sleep. Nightmares can be prevented by avoiding the use of a smartphone, computer and TV two hours before bedtime. It is also very important to observe sleep hygiene: wake up at the same time, ventilate the room before falling asleep, and properly prepare for sleep: relax, listen to music or read.

Features of nightmares

Night terrors occur during REM sleep. Often the nightmare ends with a sharp awakening, and only after that the feeling of space and time returns to the person. Usually such dreams have a very clear plot, in the center of which is the person himself. The plot can develop in the form of persecution, accident or death, after which at the last moment the person wakes up.

If a person starts taking sleeping pills in an attempt to get rid of nightmares, this can only aggravate the problem.

The dream may contain situations of discomfort, psychological or physical terror and panic. After a nightmare, a person often wakes up in a state of great stress and sometimes cannot fall asleep for a period of time. Dream content can carry negative emotions such as sadness, fear, or rage.

Diagnosis and treatment of nightmares

In diagnosis, a clinical interview is conducted with the nightmare patient first in order to determine what is going on in his life and how he feels about it. Then he is sent to the video-EEG - a test in the sleep laboratory to see the relationship between brain activity and external manifestations of sleep: how a person sleeps, how he moves in bed, how he wakes up. This test shows which phases of sleep the patient has and whether he needs medical treatment. It also helps to properly build prihoterapevticheskoe treatment. Nightmares themselves are diagnosed exclusively by clinical interviews, however, in order to proceed with their treatment, it is necessary to identify their content. If a person starts taking sleeping pills in an attempt to get rid of nightmares, this can only exacerbate the problem. At the moment, there is not a single sleeping pill that would provide a healthy, even and deep sleep.

See also

Wake up tired? This could be a symptom of a disorder!

The most important component of the treatment of nightmares is psychotherapy. There are several therapeutic models for working with such dreams, for example, in the framework of cognitive behavioral therapy. All these techniques are similar to each other and are aimed at “replacing dreams”. The fact is that we can give our brain a task, an indication of what we want to see in a dream. We are able to correct our dreams and influence their content. Dream replacement techniques are extremely effective. Usually, with the help of such techniques, nightmares can be eliminated within 2-3 sessions with a psychotherapist. During a meeting with the patient, the specialist reveals the structure of the nightmare, its content, as well as the emotions that the patient is experiencing. Next, the patient is asked to rewrite the nightmare scenario and determine in which direction he would like to see its development. After that, the brain is fixed on the new scenario and processes the information, “showing” the patient a new version of sleep. In cases of mental disorders, nightmares are also easy to treat as a symptom, but, unfortunately, this will not save the person from the disease itself.

  • Diseases and disorders


Why do I have nightmares and what to do if they do not go away?

No one is safe from nightmares. They can torment adults and children, men and women, people of various professions and marital status. In order not to jump up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, you first need to understand why nightmares can occur. As it turns out, there are a number of reasons for bad dreams, and some of them are very easy to deal with.

Why I have nightmares

There can be many reasons for nightmares, as a rule, frightening dreams come from physical or mental discomfort:

  • Stuffiness, uncomfortable bed, loud music, bright lights, overeating (especially in combination with alcohol) , overwork - these and other sources of physical discomfort can provoke nightmares.
  • High temperature. Fever during illness can also cause bad dreams.
  • Severe stress due to personal drama or extreme situation. If you can’t solve a problem in any way or forget a long-standing psychological trauma or resentment, the subconscious mind will actively signal this to you at night in the form of nightmares.
  • Profession. Both people who are faced with blood, death, cruelty (doctors, military), and representatives of creative professions due to their rich imagination can suffer from nightmares. That is why no one is immune from nightmares.

Nightmares: what to do

Regular “watching” of horror films in your sleep is a reason to adjust your habits and lifestyle. First of all, create a comfortable environment for a sound, restful sleep:

  • take a walk in the fresh air in the evening;
  • well ventilate the room in which you rest;
  • do not overeat at night and do not drink alcohol (at least three hours before bedtime), it is better to drink herbal tea to calm the nervous system;
  • take relaxing baths;
  • turn off the TV and turn on pleasant, calm music;
  • don't watch horror movies. Fear and a sense of danger are deposited on the subconscious;
  • remove objects from the room that distract you or annoy you.

How to get rid of nightmares

How to get rid of nightmares and return healthy sound sleep, advises counseling psychologist, member of the Russian Psychological Society Elena Akhromeeva.

— Nightmares are not just a bad dream, but a whole storehouse of useful information about your life and experiences. Therefore, in order to get rid of nightmares, first of all, you need to try to decipher the message about the causes of anxiety and worries that a bad dream contains. Here are 7 tips to help you get the job done.

Tell your dream in detail

Tell your dream in great detail in the first person and in present tense. For example: “I am running up a glass staircase. Suddenly I see a crack. The steps begin to crack underfoot ... ".

Pay attention to your feelings and thoughts. For example: “Fear - because I think that I can break. Interest, because the crack began to spread very beautifully along the steps.

Now connect your feelings with the current events that are happening in your life. For example: “I'm thinking about changing jobs, but I'm really scared to quit. But thanks to the dream, I realize that trying myself in a new field is very interesting. Now I will think about my interest, and not about fear.

As we can see, the nightmare helped resolve an inner doubt: I want to change jobs, but I'm scared. The dream helped to find motivation for action - this is interest!

Invent the end of the dream

If you suddenly woke up and did not finish watching the end of the nightmare (or do not remember it), then try to invent it. Write or say out loud in the first person how you would like the action in this dream to end. The fact is that our psyche does not tolerate incompleteness. If you complete the action, even in the imagination, then anxiety will decrease significantly.

Draw your nightmare

Analyze: what does this picture say? What message does this drawing convey? Who wants to show a picture? Who do you want support from? All these actions will also help reduce anxiety and understand the causes of bad dreams.

Do not look for esoteric meaning in a nightmare

Remember that dreams are just a product of your brain. Do not look for magical or esoteric meaning in your nightmares. During a nightmare, the unconscious part of the psyche tries to cope with the difficult feelings that you encounter in real life. Nightmares can even be considered as a useful function, as they help the unconscious part of the psyche to cope with stress, internal conflicts, traumatic events.

Practice good sleep hygiene

  1. go to bed at the same time;
  2. observe a full-fledged diet, the last meal should be 2-4 hours before bedtime;
  3. physical and mental activity must also be completed 2-4 hours before bedtime;
  4. take a short walk before going to bed, get some fresh air;
  5. sleep in a dark, cool, well-ventilated room;
  6. take care of a comfortable mattress and pillow, as well as comfortable clothes for sleeping.

Learn how to lucid dream

Neuroscientists have proven that lucid dreaming (LU) is indeed possible. Lucid dreaming is a state in which a person is aware that they are dreaming and can influence its plot and their actions. By managing your sleep, you can "rewrite" your nightmare.

See a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for a consultation

A specialist will conduct a differential diagnosis. Since nightmares can mask hypnagogic hallucinations (when imaginary sensations, for example, images, sounds, touches, thoughts, seem real), nighttime panic attacks. Also, recurring nightmares that lead to insomnia can be symptoms of a depressive or anxiety disorder, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

During a nightmare, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system is excited, which should be relaxed. Photo: Shutterstock

Popular questions and answers

The most popular questions regarding nightmares are answered by psychologist-consultant, member of the Russian Psychological Society Elena Akhromeeva.

What happens to the brain and consciousness when you have nightmares?

During a nightmare, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system is excited, which should be relaxed during sleep. But during a nightmare, this system turns on and begins to produce stress hormones. As a result, all the senses tense up: sweat comes out, the heart begins to beat faster, the jaws, fists, etc. are compressed. Thus, the body does not fully rest.

But for the dream psyche, even nightmares perform an adaptive function. The unconscious part of the psyche is trying to cope with difficult feelings that a person is not able to live in real life. For example, anxiety, shame, guilt, helplessness, grief, disgust.

Should I seek help from a specialist if I have nightmares?

Yes. First, you should visit a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to rule out a mental disorder that may be accompanied by nightmares. And then you should contact a psychologist (or psychotherapist) to work out the psychological component contained in the nightmare.

Is it possible to get rid of nightmares if you diligently engage in physical activity, so that later "sleep without hind legs"?

- This method does not work for everyone. Someone really "passes out" for the whole night after intense training. And for some, physical activity is exciting: it is difficult for such people to fall asleep in an exhausted state. Everything is individual. But official sleep hygiene guidelines say that intense workouts should be completed 2-4 hours before bedtime.

Can a psychologist or psychotherapist prescribe sedatives to relieve nightmares?

— Only a psychotherapist or psychiatrist can prescribe medications. A psychologist is not a doctor, therefore, he has no right to recommend medicines.

If the doctor determines that nightmares are symptoms of a mental disorder, he will treat the underlying disease. And nightmares, like unpleasant symptoms, will stop. Usually, nightmares accompany anxiety, panic, depressive and post-traumatic disorders. For their treatment, tranquilizers are used (not for a long time, up to 1 month) and modern antidepressants of the SSRI group (for a long time, from 6 months).

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