What are Nightmares?

Nightmares are vividly realistic, disturbing dreams that wake you from a deep sleep. They often set your heart pounding from fear. Nightmares tend to occur most often during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep when most dreaming takes place. Because periods of REM sleep become progressively longer as the night progresses, you may find you experience nightmares most often in the early morning hours.

Nightmares are quite common among people who have experienced a traumatic event. The aftereffects of a nightmare can often follow you into the next day, which can affect your emotional well-being and ability to function. Nightmares can be quite scary and negatively impact the amount of restful sleep you are getting. They can feel as if you are re-experiencing the traumatic event, and the thought of going to sleep can make you anxious. The less sleep a person gets, the more difficult it is for the brain to process a traumatic event and file it away. Sometimes the symptoms that are present due to trauma are the very barriers that get in the way your ability to heal.

What helps after a nightmare?

  • Get out of bed. Try and get yourself in the here and now, turn the light on and look at your surroundings.
  • Remind yourself that was a nightmare. Try and self-soothe, tell yourself that was not real, I’m here, I’m safe, that was my brain trying to process my trauma. I’m ok.
  • Take slow, deep breaths, four counts in and six counts out. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, try and make your exhale longer than your inhale. Deep breathing is important because it increases the oxygen in your system and helps you move out of your anxious state faster.
  • Return to the present by using your five senses, we call this technique a ‘grounding’ technique and this one specifically 5,4,3,2,1 grounding. 
  1. Say out loud 5 things you can see around you.
  2. Say out loud 4 things you can feel.
  3. Say out loud 3 things you can hear.                             
  4. Say out loud 2 things you can smell
  5. Say out loud 1 thing you can taste.
  • Remind yourself again that was a nightmare. Tell yourself ‘I’m ok” that was not real, I’m here, I’m safe, that was my brain trying to process my trauma. I’m ok.
  • If you sleep with a partner or have others in your house that you trust and feel comfortable doing wake them up, let them know, because the other person hasn’t been in the dream, they’re going to be able to help connect you with what’s real.
  • The next day record the contents of your nightmares in a dream journal, once you’re awake this is a great first step in managing them but only do if you feel you can.

Have a watch of the following, the Dream Completion Technique by Justin Havens to overcome nightmares. This technique has been used with many survivors of PTSD and has proved a successful way of overcoming nightmares. If it doesn’t work first time, keep trying, sleep is vital for our wellbeing and hopefully this technique will help reduce your nightmares in the future.

Dream Completion Technique