Nightmares: those nasty things that cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, worried, maybe even shaking. But what causes them to occur? And is there anything you can do to reduce the number of nightmares you suffer from – ideally to zero!
We all dream, every night. In fact we usually have several dreams every night. But we remember few, if any, of these dreams.
Nightmares are a special type of dream: they’re more vivid and the subject matter is disturbing enough to bring us out of a deep sleep.
In general, dreams seem to be the way that our minds organise themselves whilst we sleep. A bit like background processing happening on a computer – your anti-virus software only becomes noticeable if there’s a problem. Nightmares in adults are a similar kind of case.
Here are some of the things that are commonly thought to cause them to crop up.
If you’re already short on sleep, the last thing you want is to wake up scared in the middle of the night. But it’s a common cause of nightmares.
Your body’s defense systems are already at a low point, so your dreams can take turnings that you’d rather they didn’t.
Short term, you may have to pop a pill to get you through the night and get your sleep back to normal. But that’s not a good option for more than a day or two.
Find ways to relax and unwind before you go to sleep, adjust the room temperature and keep your bedroom as close to pitch black as possible.
Relaxation techniques such as having a hot bath before retiring, meditating or listening to a hypnosis track can also help.
Alcohol is a legal way to alter your state. Which, by definition, means that you’re not completely in your own regular mind.
Too much alcohol can stimulate the part of your mind that causes nightmares – even if it seems to everyone around you that you’ve just passed out through too much drink.
Do your best to cut down your alcohol intake. If you need a certain number of pints or glasses to satisfy you, cut down on the alcohol levels gradually – they’re displayed on the bottles and it’s not something you need to do often in order to switch brands or styles.
Ideally, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. You’ll find that over time you’ll need less alcohol and you’ll get the buzz quicker (and cheaper!) from a lesser quantity.
Yes, drugs again.
Still legal ones.
Most drugs have a variety of side effects – that fiddly piece of paper printed in a small font in light ink that you leave unread in the packet or instinctively throw away.
Read it and see whether there are any symptoms that you’ve recently added.
There’s a danger of being a hypochondriac, so don’t do this too often.
But if you have something you suspect is causing your nightmares, talk to your doctor and get an alternative prescribed instead.