Causes of nightmares and how to prevent them

Getting a good night’s sleep can often be a real nightmare, literally. Nightmares are extremely common and may affect as many as 80-90% of people at some point in their lives. As surreal as some of them may seem, most have a root cause in something that happened to us in the past. Take a look at what causes nightmares and what you can do to deal with the boogeyman.

Know and respect your enemy

There is no prevailing definition of what exactly a nightmare is. Generally speaking, it is a bad dream so distressful and scary, that it can wake us up shaking in fear and even prevent us from going back to sleep. Many of us have been there, but even those who deal with nightmares regularly don’t talk about it, or worse, acknowledge the problem, even after it becomes a serious cramp on their lifestyle. While everyone experiences nightmares a bit differently as a result of very different fears, memories, and stressors, one thing remains the same for everyone – nightmares are a sleep disorder that needs attention and treatment.

Don’t feed the monster…

It’s no secret that eating a lot before bed isn’t exactly healthy. Indigestion caused by overeating may make it hard to fall asleep and cause you to wake up more often during the night. This disruption of your sleep cycle means you’re more likely to wake up during your REM sleep. And since most nightmares occur in this stage, your memory of them is much more vivid and detailed. So, to make a long story short, indulging in a bucket of ice cream before bed is not just bad for your waistline, it’s also detrimental to your sleep quality.

…but if you have to feed it…

Not all foods are made equal. Some foods, like cheese, for example, can contain substances that influence your sleeping brain in an unusual way. Cheese, ice cream, or any other high-fat food causes more brain waves to appear, often followed by more lively dreams. Spicy food, on the other hand, can elevate your body temperature which also results in sleep pattern disruption. If you think you won’t make it through the night unless you get something in you, go for foods that are lighter and more sleep-friendly. Things containing amino acids like milk, lean meat or peanuts are much better – they make you more sleepy and less prone to sleep pattern disruption.

… or medicate it.

Nightmares are also a common effect of taking some drug or, quite the opposite, substance withdrawal. If you take any medication containing beta-blockers, nightmares are probably not uncommon to you. Also, for many interested, contrary to popular belief, having a nightcap isn’t good for your sleep and will not make your bad dreams go away either.

Daily stress breeds the monster

It is not always possible to blame your nightmares on a fatty burger or a pint of beer. The amount of stress in your life and how you deal with it are definitely significant. Your daily worries are not always easy to forget, and often influence your dreams. That’s why it’s not uncommon to ‘re-live’ daily stresses during the night. Of course, it’s a vicious circle – if stress haunts us even when we’re asleep, we can never really get rid of it.

An extreme example of stress-induced nightmares can be seen in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental disorder comes from being exposed to some traumatic experience such as war, an accident or some form of abuse. Flashbacks in the form of nightmares are very common and can become so burdensome that they often result in suicide attempts.

Science may be the answer

Watching what goes into your system before bed can help prevent nightmares and wake-ups caused by indigestion, but what can we do about stress-induced nightmares? Research shows that relaxing music lowers heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels, anxiety and stress, and audio-visual stimulation before going to bed significantly improves the quality of sleep. This is why we created Nightly – a complete sleep assistant featuring unique Sleep Stimulation technology that actively helps you create a calming sleep environment, which in turn improves the quality of your sleep throughout the night. You can learn more about how it works here.

Whatever you do, do it!

Dismissing frequent nightmares as ‘just a few bad dreams’ is never a good idea. Their consequences can have a catastrophic impact on our lives and well-being. That’s why it is crucial to understand their causes to try to mitigate them. This may involve something minor, like changing a few bad habits, though sometimes the underlying causes are more serious and may require the assistance of professionals. The bottom line is nightmares can be helped, but we first must acknowledge and understand the problem and then seek appropriate remedies.

Our nightly rest is too critical for our daily performance and overall health to be neglected.

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