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Emotions & Mental Health

How Can I Stop My Nightmares?

I have really bad nightmares. Is there anything I can do to get them to stop?

Almost everyone has nightmares from time to time, but certain things can contribute to persistent bad dreams.

For some people, certain medicines, alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, fever, or anxiety sometimes cause nightmares. Often, though, nightmares seem to be triggered by emotional issues at home or school, major life changes such as a move, traumatic experiences, and stress from the pressures of sports or academics — although what happens in the nightmares themselves may seem unrelated to your life.

Try to eliminate bad dreams by establishing a regular sleep schedule that includes enough sleep at night so you don’t feel the urge to take afternoon or evening naps. Cutting out caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes (especially late in the day) can also help. Avoid eating close to bedtime since those late snacks can result in nightmares.

Exercising during the day is a good way to nix nightmares, but don’t work out right before going to bed! Relaxing before falling asleep is key to a good night’s rest. Avoiding violent or scary movies, TV shows, and video games can be helpful.

In rare cases, an underlying medical or dental problem may cause sleep disturbances — and for that, an evaluation by your doctor or dentist is the way to go.

If something is really bothering you, if you’re anxious or fearful, or if you continue to have bad nightmares, look into seeing a counselor or a psychologist. Getting to the root of an emotional problem could solve the nightmare problem.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: July 2013

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.