Nightmares are often a horrible experience. We all get them from time to time, from the very young to the old. They are often quite similar; running and not getting anywhere, screaming and no sound from our mouths, falling, crashing, missing an exam or important event, or losing all our teeth. Not to mention that old stand by of showing up somewhere...naked.
There are ways, however, to lessen our chances of having an nightmare. Nightmares happen during our REM sleep and we often remember them. Nightmares tend to occur towards dawn, rather than early in sleep.
We need to monitor our caffeine and alcohol usage. Coffee is a stimulant that can cause sleep deprivation, which in turn can cause nightmares that result from stress-induced fatigue. Chocolate is also a culprit for some. Alcohol is initially a stimulant but is actually a depressant. Drinking heavily may send a person to sleep quickly but it often causes them to wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to fall back to sleep. But the chemicals in alcohol can trigger nightmares. In fact, we should always avoid food or drink before bedtime because it triggers our metabolism and increases brain activity at a time when we should be decreasing it. Spicy foods late at night should be avoided, as well as sugary foods for children.
Smokers and those with sleep apnea tend to experience nightmares more than others.
Stress and emotional trauma are the main triggers for adults. Problems with work or relationships, an illness (which in itself can cause nightmares) or past abuse can lead to occasional nightmares for a lifetime. Therapy, meditation, yoga, a healthy diet, and a restful couple of hours before sleeping will help.
Establish a routine before bed. A warm bath, some easy reading, sex or your favorite show (that is hopefully not too violent!) will ease you into a relaxed routine for bed. No more than one glass of wine in the evening is recommended.
Some things we cannot help are nightmares when we are ill. Fevers tend to promote nightmares, in children as much as adults, and they leave once we feel better.
Do you get nightmares? Are they frequent? What do you think triggers them?