If you’ve ever had a vivid nightmare, you know the immediate effects after you wake up can be jarring. Perhaps you jolt out of bed in a sweat, and you start worrying about the stresses that the dream triggers. Or maybe you have an impossible time falling back to sleep hours after the nightmare has ended. All of these reactions are perfectly normal and common. But they don’t change the fact that a nightmare or bad dreams can easily damage the quality and quantity of your sleep.
But what happens if you have bad dreams on a regular basis? Or maybe even just the occasional vivid nightmare that’s hard to shake?
Here’s a closer look at how nightmares can affect your sleep, and what you can do to change them to sweet dreams instead.
When it comes to your precise sleep schedule, (or the varying stages of sleep), believe it or not, a bad dream doesn’t have a huge influence on its own. This is because regardless of what or how often you dream, the amount of time that you spend in the varying stages of sleep doesn’t change, so your overall sleep schedule remains unchanged regardless.
Where nightmares can have a big impact, however, is your ability to fall asleep, and your mood the next day.
A vivid nightmare can cause a bit of a “bad dream hangover,” where it replays in your thoughts the following day, causing moodiness and irritability. Depending on how strong and disturbing the dream is, a nightmare can make it impossible to go back to bed if it disturbs your sleep in the middle of the night as well. This is because the spike in your adrenaline – as well as the increase in the production of stress hormones – can linger well after you open your eyes.
How and why we dream is a topic that is continually being studied, and which is still not entirely understood.
One thing many researchers can agree on, however, is that dreams reflect reality.
Thus, individuals are far more prone to have pleasant dreams when they are happy with their life. Likewise, they are more likely to have bad dreams when they are focused on looming problems, stressors, and anxieties.
This is because when we are asleep, our brain is busy doing a mental “clean-up”. It’s processing an organization of thoughts, memories, and recollections. And this database of information and knowledge can easily seep into our dreams.
So how do you switch your mindset, and perhaps, the subject of your dreams? Start with these tips that will hopefully lull your brain into a calmer state of mind.
This is especially true when it comes to scary movies, moody television shows, or any sort of media or content with darker themes.
Both alcohol and sleeping aids may alter your sleep cycle, making it less likely for you to dream. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
As a result, you may find that you may wake up during the night, or have a much harder time getting up in the morning. Regardless, in both situations you will feel more fatigued the next day.
Sleep apnea can cause heightened activity in the brain, and some studies have suggested that this, in turn, can lead to more frequent and vivid nightmares.
If you have a tendency to worry and stress before you go to bed, try writing your thoughts down.
Several studies have shown that writing down the issues of the day can go a long way in clearing these anxieties from your brain, and going to bed with a clean slate.
There’s a reason why counting sheep has been recommended for decades as a way to comfortably fall asleep!
Try to envision something pleasant before bedtime, and focus on this imagery after you close your eyes.
Need help decluttering your mind? Try a soothing scent like lavender or vanilla, play soft music, or read a lighthearted book before you go to bed.
For even more tips on having better dreams, check out this recent post!
Dreaming is a part of our sleep cycle, and even the occasional bad dream doesn’t have to be detrimental for your rest. Try to keep those negative thoughts at bay and seek help for sleep issues. This way you’ll increase your odds of achieving sweet dreams in no time at all.
Not sure where to start if you suspect a problem with your sleep? We can help. Contact us to get back to better sleep, better dreams, and better health in no time!