Nightmares: Those nasty things that make you wake up in the middle of the night, worried, maybe even shaking. But what causes them to occur? And is there anything I can do to reduce the number of nightmares I have, ideally to zero?

We all dream, every night. In fact we usually have several dreams every night. But we remember few, if any, of these dreams.

Nightmares are a special type of dream: they are more vivid and the subject is disturbing enough to bring us out of a deep sleep.

In general, dreams seem to be the way our mind organizes itself while we sleep. A bit like the background processing that happens on a computer: your antivirus software only notices if there’s a problem. Nightmares in adults are a similar case.

These are some of the things that are commonly believed to cause them to arise.

sleep deprivation

If you’re already short on sleep, the last thing you want is to wake up scared in the middle of the night. But it is a common cause of nightmares.

Your body’s defense systems are already at a low ebb, so your dreams can take turns you’d rather not happen.

In the short term, you may need to take a pill to get through the night and get back to normal sleep. But that’s not a good option for more than a day or two.

Find ways to relax and unwind before you go to sleep, adjust your room temperature, and keep your room as close to total darkness as possible.

Relaxation techniques like taking a hot bath before bed, meditating, or listening to a hypnosis track can also help.


Alcohol is a legal way to alter your status. Which, by definition, means that you are not completely in your own normal mind.

Too much alcohol can stimulate the part of your mind that causes nightmares, even if it seems to everyone around you that you passed out from drinking too much.

Do everything you can to reduce your alcohol intake. If you need a certain number of pints or glasses to satisfy you, gradually lower the alcohol levels – they show up on the bottles and it’s not something you need to do frequently to switch brands or styles.

The ideal is to alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. You’ll find that over time you’ll need less alcohol and get the buzz faster (and cheaper!) with a smaller amount.

prescription drugs

Yes, drugs again.

Still the legal ones.

Most drugs have a variety of side effects: that complicated piece of paper printed in a small font with light ink left unread on the package or instinctively thrown away.

Please read it and see if there are any symptoms you have recently added.

There is a danger of being a hypochondriac, so don’t do this too often.

But if you have something you suspect is causing your nightmares, talk to your doctor and get an alternative prescription instead.

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