As we reach the spookiest time of year, with all the ghoulish decorations going up around your neighborhood, either you or your children may experience difficulty with nightmares. Not to be confused with simply having a bad dream, a nightmare is a frightening dream that scares you so much that you wake up, potentially leaving you shaken and rattled. To make matters worse, if you experience frequent nightmares, the associated sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems.
While you may not be able to avoid seeing your neighbor’s decapitated head lawn décor when you leave for work every morning, there are still a few things you can do to lessen the likelihood of experiencing a nightmare.
Here are some common causes of nightmares, and what you can do about them:
Unbeknownst to many people, a lot of commonly prescribed drugs are actually leading causes of nightmares. From anti-depressants to blood pressure medications, more medications than you would think have been shown to trigger night terrors. If you struggle with vivid and frequent nightmares, check the list of side-effects for any medication you may be on, and talk to your doctor about switching medications.
2. Sleep deprivation
It’s a terrible cycle, but a lack of sleep can lead to nightmares, and then those nightmares will continue to cause a lack of sleep, and so on. Changes in your schedule that may cause you to interrupt the times you are used to sleeping can increase your risk of nightmares. Make sure that you’re getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep every night if you can.
3. Scary media
Whether it’s books, movies, or video games, when you consume media that features violence or horror, you’re just giving your brain fuel to create more scary images while you sleep. If you’re really having a problem with graphic or violent dreams, take a look at the media you consume during the day. Even if you aren’t scared by it while awake—because you know it’s not real—your sleeping brain doesn’t know that, and it could be affecting your sleep.
4. Eating at night
When you have dinner too late in the evening, or even just a quick midnight snack, your metabolism increases, which in turn means that your brain is more active. When your brain is more active at night, that’s right, that means it is more busy processing and potentially telling itself scary stories… which you have to watch. If you notice that you’re more likely to have nightmares after a late-night bite, cut down on the midnight snacking!
Anxiety disorders, PTSD, and even just generalized stress can all lead to nightmares. If you’ve experienced a traumatic incident, suffer from anxiety attacks, or even are just having a really hard time at work, your body interprets all of these things as stress. This stress may manifest as nightmares as your brain works to process its trauma. If any of these types of stress are a problem for you, talk to your doctor about coping mechanisms and lifestyle changes that could help you process this stress in a better way.
While occasional nightmares aren’t a cause for too much concern, if you experience frequent or particularly traumatic nightmares, it may be time to seek professional help. Sleep Science Clinics is here to assist you in sleeping better: all night, every night. Let us know how we can help!