Nightmares and Possible Strategies to Manage them

Even occasional nightmares can be terrifying for all of us. However, there are a number of things that you can do to deal with nightmares when they do occur.

  • Reassure yourself immediately by turning the lights on. Bring yourself back to the present and familiar. Do this by looking at the familiar things in your bedroom. Don’t be embarrassed to talk out loud to yourself- describe your room to yourself – this lets you know you are somewhere familiar and safe. Touch the wall/cabinet/bedhead – this gives you the tangible feeling that you are safe, at home and with “real” things (not spooky images). For some people it may behelpful to sleep with a dim light on.
  • Once awake and aware that you are safe, use breathing techniques to help calm yourself. If needed, discharge the energy from the nightmare by getting up and moving about. This can be followed by a distracting activity such as reading, listening to music or even carrying out routine chores.
  • Remind yourself (calmly but firmly) that it was just a dream, that it is now over and that you are safe.
  • Because it was only a dream (though very scary) you can exert some control over it. Perhaps think about returning to the middle of the dream, and create a new and less scary ending eg. You get away, solve the problem, and get some help from someone.
  • Do not try to return to sleep until you feel settled, calm and sleepy. Perhaps use breathing techniques, visualization strategies or relaxation to help you wind down toward a sleepy state. Try to have some pleasant and calming images/thoughts that you can focus upon as you settle into sleep.
  • One of the most effective ways to reduce your experiences of nightmares is to talk about the content of it to someone you trust/feel safe with. By talking about it, we can often reduce the associated fear/threat.
  • Remember that losing one of two nights sleep due to nightmares will not hurt you, so there is no need to worry immediately. However, if the disruption persists it may be necessary to seek some further help.

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