Healthy Habits to Help Eradicate Nightmares
TEMPUR® sleep specialist & sleep counsellor, Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, shares guide on how to reduce the risk of disturbed sleep which can lead to nightmares.
There are many reasons that nightmares and bad dreams occur in sleep, with research into the specific causes ongoing. There are, however, many known contributing factors that can be addressed to ensure the best chance of a calm and uninterrupted night’s rest.
Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, sleep specialist & sleep counsellor for TEMPUR® says, “There is still a lot we don’t know about dreams, but it seems that when our central nervous system is healthy it is reflected in our sleep. Dreams occur in the REM phase, which takes 1-2 hours to reach after falling asleep.
“Seemingly innocent night time habits like a late evening snack or turning up the temperature in the bedroom can contribute to disrupting sleep patterns by causing your body to be overly active during the night and unable to reach deep sleep, which is when your body and brainwaves slow down and is required to feel well rested and refreshed come morning.
“Frustratingly, a lack of sleep can also contribute to nightmares, which creates a vicious circle as nightmares interrupt sleep making you overtired. But by altering our habits in the hours leading up to bedtime and following some basic sleep hygiene steps we can break this cycle, paving the way for both more and better quality sleep, which will in turn help to reduce nightmares in the long-run.”
Read on for Thomas’ guide to eradicating nightmares…
Steer clear of stimulants
Although alcohol may help you feel sleepy or help you drift off quicker, it actually has stimulant as well as sedating effects. The consumption of alcohol has continually been linked to poor sleep quality and quantity, disrupting natural sleep cycles. This disruption can then translate into nightmares as the body tries to regulate itself against the breaks and wakes you up for a reset. Cutting out alcohol before bed is more likely to lead to a restful night’s sleep.
For obvious reasons, caffeine is another major contributor to disturbed sleep patterns. Essentially, it highjacks the nervous system, taking up to ten hours to completely leave the body. Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm in order to ensure you drift off to sleep much more easily and sleep deeper to minimise the possibility of bad dreams.
If a hot drink is a necessity in your evening routine, try chamomile and spiced apple tea to help relax body and mind due to the antioxidant in chamomile called apigenin. Apigenin binds to specific receptors in your brain that are known to decrease anxiety and help initiate sleep.
Watch what you eat before sleep
Complex foods, if eaten just before bedtime will keep your body busy trying to digest them, and keep you in the REM (rapid eye movement) state of sleep – where you experience more vivid dreams – for longer and thus increasing the risk of bad dreams.
For the same reason, eating a large meal before bed is also likely to cause bad dreams. Try eating earlier in the evening and only consuming light snacks in the hours before bed.
For a night-time snack, good options are fruits such as cherries and bananas as they contain naturally occurring chemicals, melatonin and magnesium, which promote sleep and muscle relaxation.
With many of us leading stressful lives, we need to strive to infuse our free time with calming activities that recentre our minds; especially those that struggle with disrupted sleep and nightmares.
In the hours before bed, we should try to incorporate activities that promote relaxation and switching off to gives our nervous system a chance to rebalance and reboot after periods of high stress. Scary films, crime thriller TV shows and binge watching may appeal, but if they regularly form part of your wind-down routine they have the potential to over activate your brain. This over activation of the mind, combined with the content of what you’ve been watching can contribute to nightmares and disrupted sleep.
Opt instead for calming activities like yoga, breathwork, reading, taking a bath, or simply catching up with your kids/partner/housemates about their day. This will allow the brain to switch into the night-time mode of healing and realignment needed to rest the body and mind in preparation for the next day.
Write it down
Many people keep a dream diary for various reasons. Adapting this for nightmares may sound counterintuitive, but it can really help in the long run.
When you have a bad dream, record it in the journal with as much detail as you can. The next day, read it through and slowly unravel it, to see if you can find any reoccurring themes or especially revealing ‘events’. You may notice that your brain has taken a particularly small detail from your day and created an entire narrative around that based on your anxieties or fears. This will help to break the nightmare down and work out what may have happened to cause it, allowing you to address those feelings of fear or worry.
It may also be worth sharing your journal with a trusted loved one or friend who might be able to help you unpick it more objectively.
Even though being cosy may cause you to nod off, our bodies’ internal temperature actually needs to drop by one or two degrees before night-time sleep. The ideal room temperature for sleep is around 18 degrees Celsius.
Resist the urge to turn up the heating to the max or add numerous layers of hoodies or blankets. Ensure sheets and bedding are made with natural, breathable materials such as cotton, to enable your body to regulate its temperature throughout the night and to avoid being woken by overheating.
A quiet and dark room is also essential, and for some, removing clocks or pesky light sources (devices and chargers) from the bedroom helps to relieve bedtime anxiety and can help achieve an unbroken night’s sleep which will aid in preventing unwanted bad dreams.
The right sleep products
We spend up to a third of our lives sleeping, so it’s vital we invest time and effort into having the best sleep tools to hand to ensure that when we are able to enjoy a good night’s sleep, we’re not hindered by aches and pains.
A mattress and pillow that keeps your head, neck and spine aligned is imperative. An unsupportive mattress or pillow can cause aches and pains, leading to a disrupted night’s sleep and leaving you more susceptible to bad dreams. Spend time “test-driving” different mattresses before purchasing to make sure you find the perfect feel and fit.
If you’re having regular nightmares that are consistently affecting your sleep or your day-to-day life, it is advisable to consult your GP to explore possible causes or treatments.
For more information on TEMPUR®, visit www.tempur.co.uk
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