Everyone needs quality sleep in order to function optimally the next day. Sometimes, these goals are not achieved because of bad dreams that make you wake up and have trouble falling asleep again. Some nightmares even haunt you the next day; as a result, your performance will be disrupted. Luckily, there are things you can do to improve your sleep, prevent bad dreams from happening again, and forget about the bad dreams you've had.
Part 1 of 3: Dealing with Nightmares When You Awake
Step 1. Remember, the dream you are having is not real
Nightmares can be caused by a variety of things: the food you eat before bed, something you watch on television, or life problems that really have nothing to do with the content of your dream.
- The things that happen in your dreams (good or bad) have nothing to do with your future life. Although they do not determine your future, dreams are actually a reflection of your past and present: their existence reflects the trauma, stress, memories, and bad experiences that mixed up while you were sleeping.
- When you wake up from a bad dream, try to immediately return your mind to things that happened in real life. Think of things that make you happy like family, pets, a partner, or a relaxing sunset. This process is known as "guided imagery", which is a mental strategy used to calm your mind and mind.
Step 2. Breathe
Calm your body and mind. Nightmares are believed to trigger physiological responses such as cold sweats or an increased heart rate. Practice some meditation techniques to release your mind from disturbing nightmares, as well as to calm your body back to sleep.
Practice deep breathing to lower your heart rate. Lie down, place your hands on your stomach, then inhale deeply through your nose. Let the incoming air fill the abdominal cavity (not the chest cavity), then press your stomach slowly so that the collected air can come back out through the mouth. Focus on how your body reacts to air going in and out
Step 3. Say a calming mantra over and over again
When you were a child, chances are that your parents did the same to calm you down whenever nightmares hit. Have a similar effect by chanting calming spells when you wake up alone after a bad dream.
- The spell you choose can be as simple as “You are awake and safe. You're awake and safe." You can also say a quote from a poem (Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a good choice) or a calming song lyric (like a lullaby for children).
- If you are a religious person, try praying according to your beliefs when stress starts to kick in.
Part 2 of 3: Forgetting The Next Day's Nightmare
Step 1. Do something to distract yourself
You can read a book, watch your favorite television show, call your friends, or do other activities that make you happy.
If the contents of the dream are truly terrifying and haunt you throughout the day, always remind yourself that the dream is not real and there is nothing to be afraid of
Step 2. Express your feelings
Telling other people about the nightmare when you want to forget it doesn't seem like a wise choice. But sometimes, the only way to forget it is to find out the meaning behind the dream and why it bothers you so much. Tell the dream to your closest friends or relatives and listen to their perspective.
- Tell someone you trust and won't scorn you. Call your parents or tell your friends everything. Believe me, you will feel more relieved if you can get the things that are stuck in your mind.
- A friend who knows your past and current stressors may be able to help you find the triggers for your nightmares (or why they bother you so much).
Step 3. Try to stay relaxed when bedtime arrives
Many people can't forget their nightmares all day and will feel anxious again when they go back to sleep (especially because they don't want to have a similar bad experience). When bedtime comes, train your brain to calm down and focus your mind on pleasant things.
- Avoid watching television, playing violent video games, or reading right before bed (especially if you're used to reading or watching scary/suspenseful things). Such viewing or reading can make your brain restless and alert, thus provoking your subconscious to have bad dreams.
- Don't watch or read the news before bed. Media stories tend to cover terrible things like crime, death, and war (mainly because these topics are more popular with the public). Reading or watching the news can distort your understanding of reality. Media observers call it the “mean world syndrome”: people who watch the news too much on television will think that the world is more cruel and dangerous than it really is.
- Do whatever relaxes you before bed: have sex, read prayer books, read a pleasant book or television show, take a warm bath, or have your partner massage you with soothing aromatherapy oils.
Part 3 of 3: Preventing the Nightmare From Recurring
Step 1. Find the cause of your nightmares
Understanding the triggers can help you strategize to prevent them from happening again.
- Dreams can be triggered by the use of drugs (especially narcotics, antidepressants, and drugs for blood pressure), food or drink (especially alcohol, but each person's specific triggers are different), stressful events, fever or other illness, or lack of sleep. Some people even have nightmares if they feel hot (for example, if they are wearing a blanket or nightgown that is too thick).
- Do you always have a snack before bed? Some people believe that certain foods can trigger nightmares (such as spicy foods). However, this assumption was refuted by the researchers. They believe that it's the act of eating before bed that actually triggers the nightmares, not the type of food. After eating, your metabolism will increase. As a result, the part of the brain that should be resting will actually increase its performance. This increase in brain activity is what makes a person dream.
- If you have persistent nightmares, identify and record the things that might be influencing your nightmares: medications, unusual food or drink, stressful and worrying events, or certain illnesses.
Step 2. Implement strategies to relieve stress
Often, nightmares are a reflection of your anxiety or stress in real life. Like a vicious cycle, the nightmares you experience can contribute to increasing stress and increasing your chances of having nightmares. Therefore, take a few hours per day to release your stress. Try implementing some of the strategies below:
- Practice mindfulness meditation. Self-awareness meditation trains our brain to focus on the present, not the past. Research shows that self-awareness meditation can relieve a person's anxiety, depression, and negative emotions. Try yoga as a great way to learn mindfulness.
- Exercise to release stress. Nightmares can also be caused by stress or depression. Meanwhile, exercising is a very powerful way to relieve your stress. So from now on, consider getting some light exercise on a regular basis (jogging, for example?). Exercising can not only relieve your stress (and eliminate one potential cause of nightmares), but it can also make you sleep faster, soundly, and dream-free.
Step 3. Try changing the mood of your bedroom
Changing the mood in your bedroom can help reduce your stress levels and make you less likely to have nightmares. Changing the atmosphere of the bedroom can also make the atmosphere of your room more comfortable and calming when you have to wake up from a bad dream.
- Pay attention to your room temperature. The average human can sleep well at a temperature of 18-20 degrees Celsius. You may be tempted to turn the temperature up if it's too cold outside. But believe me, a low temperature can improve the quality of sleep as well as eliminate the possibility of someone having bad dreams.
- Wear light pajamas or sleep naked. Also avoid using too many or too thick blankets: one thin sheet and one blanket will suffice. Remember, the most important thing is to keep your body temperature low so you don't feel hot at night.
- If you are used to sleeping in a completely dark room, this time try sleeping in low light. Whenever you wake up, the light will remind you that you are still safe in your bedroom. On the other hand, if you're used to sleeping with the lights on, try sleeping in complete darkness this time. If necessary, install dark curtains; some people were disturbed by the faint glow from the lamp outside their room.
- Prepare various objects that make you comfortable. If you're used to sleeping alone, try sleeping with your doll this time. You think dolls are only for small children? Consider again: a British study found that one in four adult males travel with their favorite doll!
Step 4. Accept some of the nightmares you've had
Through nightmares, your brain is actually processing your bad and traumatic experience. Accepting these dreams is also part of responding to the reality behind them.
Instead of ignoring your entire nightmare, try to find and manage the root cause that triggers your dreams. Dreams can recede or change by themselves according to the reality of your life
Step 5. See a doctor, psychologist, or expert counselor
It's normal to have nightmares every now and then; let's just say at that time you are out of luck. However, for some people nightmares are a sign of a more serious problem. Before the situation gets worse, immediately see a doctor or expert psychologist.
Recurring nightmares can signal an anxiety disorder, past trauma, or mental disorder. If you experience it, immediately ask for help from a doctor or expert psychologist to deal with it. To stop a dream, you first need to identify the cause, and some psychologists can help you do that
- Hug something while you sleep, such as your favorite doll, pet, best friend, or relative.
- Build good sleep habits. Before going to bed, you can take a warm bath, read a book, watch television, or hug your favorite doll. Surely, you will be helped to sleep more soundly.
- Read fun books. Children's story books are the right choice because they can inject a sense of happiness into your mind and reduce the chances of you having bad dreams.
- Don't worry too much about the nightmares you're having. Over time, the dream will sink by itself.
- Clear your mind of any negative thoughts or feelings that are blocking you.