Common causes of nightmares and what to do about it

Shutterstock/ Marcos Calvo
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Most people remember having nightmares as a child. Growing up is stressful, and nightmares are a way for the mind to deal with psychological issues. They’re more common in children, but many adults also suffer from them. About half of adults get nightmares. These episodes can be very realistic and frightening. In some cases, they can cause you to lose sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to other health problems such as depression, heart disease and weight gain. Here are several causes of nightmares and some tips to prevent having them.


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One of the more common causes of nightmares is eating before bed. This causes your metabolism to increase and stimulates higher levels of brain activity. Greater brain activity can make it more likely for you to experience vivid dreams and nightmarish scenarios while you’re asleep. At the very least, try to avoid eating a large portion of food right before laying down to sleep.

Sleep deprivation

This can become a vicious cycle because a lack of sleep could cause nightmares, and nightmares could worsen your sleep-deprivation problem. In order to avoid this self-sustaining problem, try to practice better sleep habits. Turn off computer screens or TV sets before you doze off to sleep. Get your sleeping area as dark as possible or to a level that is comfortable and relaxing. Don’t watch a frightening or intense drama before going to sleep. Do some relaxing activities that will calm your moods, such as reading, meditation or yoga.

Mental disorders

If you have a lot of stress in your life, you could develop a chronic mental health disorder such as anxiety. If you have had some traumatic events in your past, it could result in a post-traumatic stress disorder that brings on episodes of anxiety. All of these mental health disorders disrupt healthy sleep and increase your chances of having nightmares. In these cases, the way to treat nightmares is to seek professional help for treating your underlying mental issues. Some simple counseling or therapy could make a big difference in improving your sleep.

Prescription drugs

Many prescription drugs affect the chemistry in your body, and this is almost certain to change your brain chemistry to some degree either for better or worse. Blood pressure medications and antidepressants have been linked to cases of frequent nightmares. Doctors often prescribe drugs as a routine treatment for symptoms that you report to them. It’s up to you to decide if taking a prescription medication is the best course of action. Sometimes it’s best to try other remedies such as diet or lifestyle changes to deal with your health issues.

Sleep disorders

There are many health problems that are directly linked to sleep problems and nightmares. Many people are unaware that they are suffering from an illness that is hindering their sleep. One such disorder is sleep apnea. Sufferers of this disorder have repeated episodes during sleep where the body is not receiving enough oxygen and the brain interrupts sleep in order to induce better breathing. These constant sleep interruptions are very detrimental to getting proper sleep.