Sometimes the only dreams we remember are the ones we wish we could forget. Nightmares can be instructive, and most psychologists believe that they are a healthy part of life. But if you are plagued by repetitive nightmares and are losing sleep, sometimes changing your daily habits can reduce nightmare frequency. In general, nightmares can be caused by insufficient sleep, poor exercise and diet, and stress. The tips below all are aimed at cultivating a healthier sleep and dream life.
1. Don’t go to sleep angry or stressed out. Give yourself time to cool down.
2. Regular sleep patterns = better dreams. Including weekends.
3. Don’t eat right before bed. In particular, foods that take longer to digest, like meats and cheeses, can increase nightmares.
4. Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption.
5. Cultivate gratitude. If this doesn’t come easy, do a “thankfulness” exercise every day in which you list the aspects of your life that you are thankful for.
6. Reduce exposure to violent images in the media, especially in the evenings. Horror movies can cause lingering nightmares for years.
7. Spend time in nature as often as possible, even if this means sitting in a city park for fifteen minutes every day. Many therapists believe that we all suffer from “nature deficiency disorder.”
8. Don’t sleep on your back. This encourages a special kind of nightmare known as sleep paralysis, in which you feel like you are awake and alert while at the same time you cannot move. Sufferers also feel breathless and/or sense an “unknown presence” in the room.
9. Start a gentle body practice like yoga, walking, or tai chi. In general, moderate exercise increases the quality of sleep.
10. If you have repetitive nightmares, role-play how you will face your nightmare attackers next time.
11. Keep a dream journal. Often writing it out can dispel a lot of the powerful emotionality.
12. Join a dream-sharing group. Many larger cities have them. If not, start your own.
13. Give yourself some self-love and acceptance. Easy to suggest, but hard to do. I use journaling to remind myself that I am loved. Affirmations — while they can seem cheesy at first — are effective as well. My backlog of journals is essentially a history of pep-talks I’ve given myself over the years… and it still works.
14. Keep fresh flowers or aromatic oils in the bedroom. Research shows that good smells positively effects your dreams.
Note: If you have numerous, repetitive nightmares that are related to childhood scenes or some personal trauma you encountered, I recommend seeing a counselor or therapist: a good rule of thumb for seeing a pro is two weeks of disturbance every night, or at least one nightmare a week for a month.
For more insights in nightmares, and also how to enhance your own dreams, check out my ebook Dream Like a Boss