How do you stop nightmares

How to stop nightmares in adults: 10 ways to end bad dreams

CNN  — 

We leave behind our fears of monsters under the bed as we say goodbye to our childhoods, but one can follow us into adulthood and loom over our heads.

Nightmares are more common in childhood, but anywhere from 50% to 85% of adults report having occasional nightmares.

Almost everyone can experience nightmares — and especially during the pandemic.

Photo Illustration/Thinkstock

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“With a combination of additional stress and safer-at-home orders, more people are struggling with nightmares,” said Jennifer Martin, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s board of directors.

If your days are filled with online school for the children, social distancing, masks and a daily death toll, isn’t it no wonder adults are having nightmares at night?

“Dreams do usually incorporate things that happened during the day, leading some researchers to hypothesize that dreams and rapid eye movement sleep is essential for memory consolidation and cognitive rejuvenation,” said Joshua Tal, a sleep and health psychologist based in Manhattan. “Nightmares are the mind’s attempts at making sense of these events, by replaying them in images during sleep.”

Nightmares are what the American Academy of Sleep Medicine call “vivid, realistic and disturbing dreams typically involving threats to survival or security, which often evoke emotions of anxiety, fear or terror.”


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If someone has frequent nightmares — more than once or twice weekly — that cause distress or impairment at work or among people, he or she might have nightmare disorder. Treatments include medications and behavioral therapies.

Addressing frequent nightmares is important since they have also been linked to insomnia, depression and suicidal behavior. Since nightmares can also cause sleep deprivation, they are linked to heart disease and obesity as well.

Trying out these 10 steps could help you ease your nightmares and improve your sleep and quality of life.

Create a nighttime routine to improve the quality of your sleep and reduce nightmares.


Nightmares, Martin said, occur during rapid eye movement sleep, the phase during which our muscles relax and we dream. Waking up during REM sleep enables recollection of the dream and resulting distress.

“One of the most effective ways to treat nightmare problems in adults is actually to get them sleeping more soundly (so) they wake up less often,” Martin said.

A healthy sleep routine begets sound sleep. Develop one by exercising, setting regular sleep and waking times, ensuring your room is dark and cool, avoiding stimulating beverages after midafternoon and engaging in relaxing activities.

Alcoholic beverages can induce restlessness and awakenings throughout the night — potentially helping you remember nightmares, Martin said.

Young woman covering head with pillow in bed at home. Sleep disorder; Shutterstock ID 1163906941; Job: CNNie Design Website


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“A lot of people use alcohol as a way to wind down and feel sleepy at the end of the day, but it’s really not the right solution,” she added. Instead, try herbal teas and other beverages conducive to sleep. If drinking was the only part of your relaxation routine, chat with your partner or read instead.

One drink more than three hours before bedtime is OK, Martin said. Just pay attention to whether it causes a post-dinner nap and alertness at bedtime, and eliminate that drink if it does.

Avoid snacking before bed to prevent spiking your metabolism and activating your brain.


Snacking can boost metabolism, which causes your brain to be more active and could lead to nightmares, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

While some people sleep better after eating a light snack, you should stop eating two to three hours before bedtime. If you notice that you have nightmares afterward, try avoiding nighttime snacking or heavier meals before bed.

Some medications can prompt nightmares by interrupting REM sleep.

“If people can identify that their nightmares either started or increased when they had a change in their medication, that’s definitely a reason to talk to their doctor” about their medication schedule or alternatives, Martin said.


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Melatonin, while a popular sleep aid, influences our circadian rhythm that regulates REM sleep, and can lead to more or fewer nightmares. If you want to take melatonin for better sleep, work with a sleep specialist to ensure you’re taking it at the right time and not compounding the problem, Martin said.

Calming activities can deactivate your fight-or-flight response and trigger your relaxation system.


Progressive muscle relaxation — tensing muscle groups as you inhale and relaxing them as you exhale — has been effective for reducing nightmares.

PBS host Stephanie Mansour of "Step It Up With Steph" shares a nighttime yoga routine for better sleep. Shown here is pigeon pose.

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Mansour

Try this 5-minute yoga routine before bedtime

“Nightmares activate the sympathetic nervous system, the ‘fight or flight system,’ the body’s natural response to imminent danger,” said Tal via email.

“The body also has an innate relaxation system: the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the ‘rest and digest’ system.” Progressive muscle relaxation and other relaxation activities can help activate that system.

Journaling can help you release your anxieties.


Write down your worries to get them all out ahead of time, lest they rear their disquieting heads at night. Journaling can be helpful for alleviating nightmares and stress in general, Tal said.

Images from any exciting or disturbing content you watched before bed can appear in your dreams.


Since our nighttime observations can appear during sleep, “spend some energy engaging with things that are more emotionally neutral or even positive” before bedtime, Martin suggested.

During the pandemic, our everyday lives are looking pretty scary, too. “Reading the news media and then hopping into bed is more likely to trigger disturbing and upsetting dreams than looking through pictures from your last vacation with your family,” she added.

Imagery rehearsal therapy is effective “when the chronic nightmares are showing similar themes and patterns,” Tal said.


10 commandments for better sleep

Since nightmares can be learned behavior for the brain, this practice involves writing down in detail the narrative elements of the dream. Then rewrite the dream so that it ends positively. Just before falling asleep, set the intention to re-dream by saying aloud, “If or when I have the beginnings of the same bad dream, I will be able to instead have this much better dream with a positive outcome.

“By practicing a rewrite during the daytime, you increase your chances of having them at night while you’re sleeping instead of your nightmare,” Tal said.

Silence is key in a sleep routine, but “for people who either don’t like it to be completely quiet or who are awakened by noises they can’t control during the night,” background noise “is a good strategy,” Martin said.

Yogasleep Dohm Elite Natural White Noise Sound Machine


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Try a fan or a white noise machine or app for several consecutive nights to help your brain adapt, she added.

If nothing works and you’re still having nightmares, talk with a therapist or sleep specialist.

“Nightmares might be a sign of a larger issue, such as PTSD or a mood disorder,” Tal said. “It is possible to treat the nightmares without treating the underlying disorder, but it may also be helpful to treat both the symptom and the disorder.

“There has been great progress on psychological treatments for nightmares, insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders,” Tal added. “Do not be afraid to ask for help; psychotherapy works and it is often short term and accessible.”

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.

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. Night terrors can be triggered by stress, traumatic events, or mental disorders such as PTSD or depression. nine0003

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. nine0003

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. nine0003

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 superficial 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. nine0003

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. nine0003

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. nine0003

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.

nine0002 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. nine0003

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. nine0003

  • Diseases and disorders


"I'm afraid to fall asleep again": what people who suffer from nightmares see | Articles

Surely everyone can remember a dream that horrified and numbed you. From time to time such nightmares visit our consciousness. They relieve tension and help the nervous system prepare a person for real risks while awake. But there are people who have nightmares on a regular basis. Terrible dreams are exhausting and can cause sudden injury. Facebook even has a support group that brings together people suffering from regular nightmares. What to do if sleep does not bring joy and rest, Izvestia sorted it out.

Horror of the night

“Every night is a kind of madness that is difficult to cope with. I recently broke a few ribs because I jumped off a damned balcony. I hate this. Sleep does not bring me rest”; nine0003

“I often wake up at night and 'see' something falling on me from the ceiling. It can be spiders, snakes, rope, even the ceiling itself!

“I always see the same black demon. Many years have passed… so I am no longer afraid.”

Such descriptions are given by people suffering from regular nightmares. As you know, terrible dreams visit us in the third phase of sleep. This is a deep dreamless sleep that occurs 30-60 minutes after a person falls asleep. Cycles follow each other throughout the night. nine0061 It is known that in children phase number 3 is repeated more often, so nightmares usually occur in adolescence. However, according to scientists, 2% of the adult population also suffer from regular nightmares.

One of the causes of nightmares in adults is sleep deprivation. When the body is overworked, it enters recovery stage #3 faster and stays there longer.

"I'm afraid to fall asleep again"

Photo: Global Look Press/imago-images/Ute Grabowsky

At the same time, nightmares can have an important protective function . A study on this topic was published in 2020 by neurophysiologists at the University of Geneva. According to threat modeling theory, nightmares allow the nervous system to train behavioral responses by simulating dangerous situations. In other words, nightmares are dreamed of in order for a person to be ready for threats while awake.

Scary sleep

It happens that nightmares are accompanied by intense panic attacks. A person can scream, choke, toss and turn during sleep . Sometimes such actions frighten the sufferer more than a nightmare.

“Sometimes I find myself screaming terribly in the middle of the night and I find it hard to believe that I can scream so loudly. The next morning I have a sore throat… I can’t even scream like that during the day if I try,” shares a user named Joshua.

However, screaming is a relatively harmless part of the nightmare. It is much more terrible when a sleeping person suddenly starts to behave like a waking person. A person can talk, laugh, cry during sleep, rearrange things on the nightstand, put on and take off shoes. nine0003

Doctors call this behavior parasomnia. It is defined as a disorder that causes unusual sleep behaviors. Usually a somnambulist walks, eats or talks with his eyes open, but without awareness of what is happening.

Uncontrolled parasomnia can be very traumatic. On the social network, a girl under the nickname Jen retells the story in horror: “My mother called me yesterday. She was taken to the hospital after a nightmare caused her to jump out of bed and hit the wall. Now there are seven surgical staples in her head!” nine0003

"I'm afraid to fall asleep again"

Photo: Global Look Press/imago-images/Ute Grabowsky

“A couple of hours when I'm not afraid”

In an effort to unite people suffering from nightmares, a thematic support group has appeared on Facebook. It has over 500 participants from all over the world. The group provides a safe space for those suffering from nightmares - users look for coincidences in symptoms, share medical prescriptions and just blow off steam. nine0062

“My nightmares really annoy me. Yesterday I had a dream in which I was choking on a pile of coins that got into my throat. That evening I had another nightmare - I was sure that I was suffocating from broken glass that had once been a figurine of a ballerina. Why don't I just have a normal food-related choking dream??? Now I am awake and afraid to fall asleep again,” writes Mindy.

In the morning the band members are usually broken and in a bad mood. Some feel shame and embarrassment at the fact that their cry raised the whole house to its feet. nine0062

A depressed state affects literally everything.

“I had to leave my job. My nightmares were so terrible that they affected my ability to cope with simple tasks, ”says Holly.

"There are only a few hours a day when I'm not afraid," comments Barbara below.

Users report that nightmares become more frequent during times of high stress. The loss of a loved one, overwork, neurotic disorders affect the plot of dreams. nine0062

"I'm afraid to fall asleep again"

Photo: Global Look Press/imageBROKER/Oleksiy Maksymenko

Heavy blanket and pleasant music

One of the main topics in the group is prevention and treatment. Community members can complete the "What medication do you take for your nightmares?" survey. According to the current result, the majority do not struggle with frightening dreams (216 votes), the rest drink clonazepam (26), prazosin (23), melatonin (17) and practice self-medication (11). nine0003

For a neurologist, the choice of such drugs does not seem entirely out of place.

— Clonazepam is an antiepileptic drug that reduces convulsions and anxiety. Its side effect is drowsiness, which is why patients suffering from nightmares turn to it. But you need to be careful - the medicine is addictive, says neurologist Anna Moskalenko. - Melatonin is more likely to be needed to restore the circadian rhythm, that is, sleep-wakefulness. In moderate consumption, it is harmless, without addiction. Prazosin is usually used for urination disorders, but its side effect is the same drowsiness. Still, more often with sleep problems, we will prescribe antidepressants. And in a good way, in this case, cognitive behavioral therapy is needed. nine0003

"I'm afraid to fall asleep again"4

Photo: Global Look Press/moodboard/Chris Robbins

When drugs don't work, users try to find solace in specific rituals. For example, someone turns on serials about nature at night, others fall asleep to the music of Claude Debussy. Still others cover themselves with a weighted blanket and notice that they have fewer nightmares when they roll over on their backs.

A girl named Amber observes another oddity. She has nightmares when she sleeps at her boyfriend's house:

“I usually wake up in a panic when I 'see' a shadowy person sitting on my side of the bed.

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