If you’ve been having frequent disturbing dreams that awaken you, you’re not alone. You may have what’s known as a nightmare sleep disorder. This disorder makes you more likely to have intense dreams associated with negative feelings. These feelings can range from mild anxiety to total fear. Even if you only have occasional nightmares, they can impair your ability to sleep well. This article will help you understand nightmares and how they work to help you sleep through the night.
What Are Nightmares?
Nightmares are something most of us are familiar with. Though they differ from person to person, they’re always vivid and unsettling dreams. Nightmares usually begin when you’re between 3 and 6 years old, and usually decrease after age 10. During your teen and young adult years, girls are more likely to get nightmares than boys. You’re also far more likely to have nightmares in the second half of your sleep cycle. Though the occasions are often brief, they’re scary enough to wake you up and make falling back asleep hard.
No one knows exactly what causes nightmares, either. One theory is that dreams and nightmares are how we process thoughts and feelings about situations we face. It’s especially true as a teen, as you work through worries and concerns.
Typical Nightmare Symptoms
What you experience as a nightmare is going to be different than what someone else experiences. However, there are some common symptoms and themes in most nightmares, such as:
- Vivid and upsetting dreams. These usually become more disturbing as the dream unfolds.
- Storylines relating to threats to safety or survival.
- Being awoken by your nightmare.
- Feeling anxious, sad, or angry after your nightmare.
- Feeling sweaty.
- Experiencing a pounding chest.
- Clear recall of your nightmare.
- Trouble falling back asleep.
Nightmare Sleep Disorder
Occasional nightmares are common, and usually nothing to worry about. However, nightmare sleep disorder is more serious, and can impact your bodily and mental health! You may have nightmare sleep disorder if:
- Your nightmares are frequent.
- You experience major distress or impairment during the day. This includes persistent anxiety or fear of bedtime.
- You have trouble remembering things or focusing.
- You’re tired or unable to function during the day.
- You develop behavior problems over fear of the dark or going to bed.
How to Help Get Rid of Nightmares
Whether you only have occasional nightmares or have them frequently, there are ways to help get rid of them! We recommend following these tips to reduce or eliminate your nightmares and sleep soundly again:
- Image Rehearsal Therapy – This works by desensitizing a specific nightmare so it’s less scary. During the day, write out your nightmare, remembering the early details. But near the end of the story, during the most frightening part, create a non-scary part of the story. This makes the overall experience less intense. It also helps train your mind to create these scenarios instead of having nightmares!
- Develop a Consistent and Relaxing Bedtime Routine – You’re far less likely to have nightmares if you go to bed relaxed. Calming activities like reading (nothing scary!), doing puzzles, meditating, or doing relaxation exercises before bedtime are ideal.
- Talk to Your Parent/Guardian – Talking about scary experiences is one of the best ways to get to the root of it. By explaining your nightmares to a loved one, you can get another perspective on them. They might even be able to help you figure out what’s causing them and how you can stop them.
- Talk to a Doctor – If you have frequent nightmares, or can’t get the ones you have to stop, your best bet is to talk to a doctor. Left untreated, recurring nightmares can leave you sleepless and burnt out. A trained professional will be able to discover what’s causing your nightmares, and offer you treatment and advice.
You don’t have to let nightmares keep you up all night! We know they’re scary, but all it takes is that first step to stop them. Just follow a healthy sleep schedule, do your best to relax, and never be scared to talk it out. You’ll be sleeping soundly again before you know it!