What Are Nightmares?
Nightmares are unpleasant, vividly realistic and disturbing dreams that wake you up from the deep sleep. Nightmares and dreams, in general, occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. Depending on how long you sleep, your body goes through four to six cycles a night. The REM stage gets longer with each sleep cycle. Most nightmares happen during the last phase of your night’s sleep.
Having nightmares are not a big problem for most people since they only appear once in a while. Only 5 percent of adults find it bothering because they dream too often or severe. 8 to 29 percent have nightmares once a month, and 2 to 6 percent have it once per week.
What Can Cause Nightmares?
Different sleep positions can cause nightmares
When you sleep in an awkward or uncomfortable sleep position, it can cause nightmares. A study in 2004 showed that people who sleep on their left side are having more nightmares than right-side sleepers. The few people who sleep on their stomach have the most emotional dreams.
Your sleep environment can cause nightmares
The reason you are having nightmares might be because you are surrounded by external noises in your bedroom. You might not even realize it or are used to it, but too much noise can be bad for your good night’s rest. Sounds cause you to enter the light sleep phase faster. The light sleep phase is the point where you can remember your dreams and nightmares.
Anxiety and stress can be the reason you have nightmares every night
Everyday stress about your job, money or big changes in your life such as a divorce or moving, can cause nightmares. Anxiety and stress can also result from a traumatic life experience. The International Association of the Study of Dreams (IASD) concluded that significant accidents, illness or surgery, losing a loved one, which can trigger nightmares and bad dreams. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also a common reason people have nightmares every night.
Eating before you sleep can cause nightmares
Anything you eat before you go to bed boosts your metabolism and temperature. This makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Also, eating increases your brain activities. More brain activity during the REM sleep leads to bad dreams and nightmares.
If healthy food can already increase your temperature, imagine eating spicy foods before sleep. A small study was conducted with a group of healthy men. The quality of their sleep was compared when they had eaten spicy food before bed and when they did not. The spicy food lowered the quality of their sleep. Also, they had more difficulties to fall asleep on their spicy dinner nights.
A research conducted to study people with healthy lifestyles and persons with unhealthy lifestyles. Turns out that both groups dream differently. The people with a healthy lifestyle had more often happy dreams compared to the other group. Certain foodshave a negative influence on your sleep and disturb your sleep pattern. A study showed that junk food triggers more brain waves. This causes seven out of ten participants to have nightmares. It’s recommended to eat light in the evenings and, at least, a few hours before you go to sleep.
Drinking alcohol before you sleep causes nightmares
Alcohol can make you fall asleep faster in the short run. However, you can wake up prematurely once it wears off. Too much alcohol can also lead you to have nightmares and bad sleep-time. Nightmares are also often side effects when you go through an alcohol withdrawal.
Drugs can be the reason you have nightmares every night
Nightmares can be a side effect of drugs such as an anti-depressant, barbiturates, and narcotics. A study in 2008 compared ketamine, a drug used in anesthesia, with a placebo. They found out that ketamine resulted in more nightmares. People who traveled to countries where there is a higher chance of getting malaria may have taken Lariam before and experienced nightmares as an after effect. Luckily, nightmares usually disappear once the drug is out of our system.
Nightmares can come from illness
Whenever you have a fever from, for example, the flu, you often experience nightmares as well. Sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy can also cause nightmares.
People who pee more often can have more nightmares.
People who go to the bathroom more often, are known to experience nightmares more frequently. Not because they have a smaller bladder, but an overactive bladder. This can cause you to go to your REM sleep phase faster. If you often need to pee, it’s recommended not to drink at least a few hours before you go to sleep.
Watching an exciting movie or reading an interesting book can cause nightmares.
Your body produces adrenaline when you watch or read something exciting or interesting that can make you restless. You will have more difficulties to fall asleep and sleep lighter. You can also dream about the movie or book in a negative way.
What To Do To Stop Having Nightmares Every Night?
Before having nightmares
Let’s talk about what you can do before going to bed and before your nightmares. There are several steps you can take to reduce the frequency of having nightmares. It is important to set up and keep a regular wake-sleep schedule. As well as, doing stress-releasing exercises before you go to sleep. Such as yoga or meditation. However, don’t do any intensive activities a few hours before bed. It will make falling sleep more difficult since your body is warmed up. Also, avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine before sleep. They can remain in your body for more than 12 hours and mess with your sleep schedule.
Your sleep environment as mentioned earlier can also influence your sleep. It’s, therefore, important to have a hygienic sleep environment. For example, use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Don’t let anything distract you when you go to sleep.
When you are having nightmares
Now let’s continue with what you can do when you are having a nightmare. Most of the time you don’t realize you are having a nightmare. Try to recognize a nightmare while you are having one. It will not be easy at first, but you will get the hang of it after a few tries. Tell yourself that you are going to do this before you fall asleep.
Next is to identify what makes you feel bad in these nightmares. What feelings or events are involved? Were you scared in the nightmare? What made you scared? Was it because of a stranger who was chasing you, who can hurt you? Or did you feel sad, because a friend died and you were at his funeral? Doing these steps, believe it or not, you can stop your nightmare.
Once you stop the nightmares, you can change the ending of your nightmare. Turn what is terrible into something beautiful. You might have to wake up to create a new ending, but you will sleep better when you rewrite your dream.
Keeping a dream diary can give you a view on your nightmares. It can help you to identify more quickly what was bothering you in the nightmare. Write them down every morning, not only nightmares but also regular dreams.