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How to Stop Recurring Nightmares


If you have a recurring nightmare or night terror that is causing you anxiety, Dr. Phil has some advice:

  • There is a difference between a nightmare and a night terror. Nightmares tend to occur several hours into the sleep cycle, and there's usually not any moving. Night terrors occur during the first hour or two of sleep, and involve moving around.

  • Dreams of any kind usually reflect unfinished business from your life or from just that day. Thoughts and fears that you may suppress while you're awake reside in your subconscious and can manifest when you're in a dream state. For example, nightmares may evolve from feelings of inadequacy or of not being worthy.

  • Nightmares that start after the birth of a child can represent mild postpartum depression.

  • Nightmares that repeat a traumatic event reflect a normal psychic healing process, and should diminish in frequency and intensity if recovery is progressing.

  • If you have unfinished emotional business while you're asleep, you can finish it while you're awake. Set up a ritual before you go to bed. Things that you can do:

    1) Talk about the nightmare with someone. Give it a voice. Describe it fully, scene by scene, what happened and how you felt.
    2) Write it out. Write out the whole scenario, including what happens when you wake up, if you sleepwalk, etc.
    3) Act it out. Play all the characters involved.
    4) Imagine a more pleasant ending. It sounds simple, but getting every neurological loop involved can help finish the business.

  • If those rituals don't lessen the nightmares, take a closer look at your internal dialogue. What you tell yourself can have a dramatic influence on your subconscious.

The Association for the Study of Dreams offers additional information:

  • About five to 10 percent of adults have nightmares once a month or more frequently.
  • Many people experience nightmares after a traumatic event such as surgery, loss or an accident.
  • Others experience nightmares when they are undergoing stress in their waking lives, such as a change on the job, pregnancy, moving, financial concerns, etc.
  • Nightmares and night terrors arise from different physiological stages of sleep. Children who have night terrors also may have a tendency to sleepwalk and/or urinate in bed. The causes of night terrors are not well understood. Children usually stop having them by puberty. For adults, night terrors may be associated with stress.