A nightmare is a particularly painful dream that usually takes place in an anxiety-provoking atmosphere. Most nightmares occur in the REM phase of sleep, which is characterized by rapid eye movement under the eyelids. Only 4% of nightmares occur in the non-REM phase.

These terrifying dreams can manifest themselves in thousands of ways, depending on many factors such as our darkest fears or what we don’t even dare to imagine. But what can you do to stop having nightmares? While there is not a sure way to do so, there are nonetheless certain steps that you can take to diminish the chances of them happening.

But what is a nightmare really?

A nightmare is a dream punctuated with terrifying images, unpleasant experiences or situations, often associated with anxiety or even full-blown panic. What a person sees in a nightmare can be directly related to current events and/or real fears. Sometimes, however, there seems to be no connection. Nightmares often deal with danger, death, trauma, disease or loss.

The fear from a nightmare often translates into reality. Physical reactions such as sweating, rapid breathing, tremors and an increased heart rate can happen during or after a nightmare.

What plays out during nightmares is obviously different depending on the profile of the dreamers. Their ages, whether they are children or adults, whether they are men or women.

Other nightmares are about embarrassing situations, such being completely naked in front of strangers and being laughed at. In addition to fear and grief, negative emotions such as shame, anger and disgust are common components of a nightmare.

What causes nightmares?

Most nightmares arise during times of emotional instability or a change in life, they usually reflect a state of stress, anguish or anxiety in the dreamer’s life, difficulty solving problems. They can also be consecutive to a shock. Thus, nightmares can be a way to release the tensions of the day.

Most nightmares are not a major problem. These begin to appear around age 10 and occur most often during the childhood stage. Although this does not mean that they do not occur during adulthood.

During childhood, children usually have fears about facing situations they want to avoid: school problems, at home, clashes with other children, watching scary movies, etc.

In any case, having nightmares on a recurring or timely basis may be due to different causal factors:

  • Be an insecure or nervous person.
  • Being in a state of emotional fragility.
  • Being in a state of anxiety.
  • Having drunk excessively.
  • Having suffered a traumatic episode that has left its mark on the conscious or subconscious.
  • Environmental factors, such as outside noise. 

Sometimes being sick can also cause nightmares. In addition, some drug treatments can disrupt sleep rate and lead to nightmares as well as some conditions such as sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorders or depression.

How to control or stop your nightmares?

Nightmares that occur on a recurring basis are usually due to controllable factors, as well as much of the occasional nightmares. One of the main steps that can be taken to avoid nightmares is good sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene refers to a series of habits and routines that are adopted in order to facilitate sleep and its quality. Steps to avoid nightmares include:

  • Go to sleep and get up every day at the same time.
  • Avoid copious meals before bedtime.
  • Have dinner at least two hours before bed.
  • Reduce or avoid the consumption of alcohol, caffeine or other stimulants.
  • Avoid psychoactive drugs.
  • Maintain adequate environmental conditions in in your room: temperature, ventilation, lighting, etc.
  • Avoid intense physical activity at night.
  • Practice relaxation exercises before bedtime if you are nervous, anxious or have emotional problems.
  • Take baths at body temperature before bedtime to promote relaxation.
  • Use earplugs if there is excessive ambient noise that prevents you from falling asleep normally.
  • If the nightmares coincide with the start of a drug treatment, you should consult your doctor in case it could be the reason. 

Some experts suggest writing on a piece of paper everything related to the nightmare, then reading it aloud, breaking the paper and throwing it away. The subconscious will perceive it with a therapeutic effect.

On the other hand, if the person affected is a child, he or she may feel more relaxed if he or she sleeps with a doll or stuffed animal that helps him or her feel safer.

Finally, if the nightmares persist or increase in intensity, it is best to consult with a specialist or psychologist who can help us find the reason for these dreams.

Betsy Wilson

A true science nerd and pediatric nursing specialist, Betsy is passionate about all things pregnancy and baby-related. She contributes her expertise to the Scientific Origin.