Why Do I Get Nightmares? (and how to make them stop)

Waking up in a cold sweat with unpleasant visions flashing through your mind is a surefire way to get a crummy night’s sleep. For some of us, nightmares are an occasional occurrence that doesn’t cause too many disruptions. For others, they’re a constant source of torment. We know it’s all in our heads, but where, exactly? What is going on in our brains to cause nightmares, and how can we make them stop?

1. Science is still trying to understand both regular dreams and nightmares.
The brain is an odd place, and we’ve spent a long time studying it and attempting to understand its nuances. One area that is difficult to understand is dreaming. Why do we do it? Researchers are all over the place on this topic. Some think there’s no purpose behind dreaming. Some are of the opinion that dreams are a way the mind works through problems, or that they’re a sort of “dress rehearsal” for situations we may encounter in life. Dreams and nightmares alike might have many reasons or no reasons, but right now science doesn’t know for sure.

2. Some causes include eating before bed and stress.
We might not know why nightmares happen, but we do know some things that can make them more likely. Eating before bed can cause your brain to be more active during sleep, and this overactivity can contribute to nightmares. Stress is also a huge factor, which makes sense. If your mind is filled with worry and negativity throughout the day, it stands to reason that that would continue into the night. Stress can also make it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep can lead to more nightmares.

3. Have a relaxing before-bed routine to discourage nightmares.
Reducing or eliminating the factors that make nightmares more likely is the first step you can take. Start by creating a nighttime routine that relaxes you and gets you in a calm state of mind, and make sure your sleep area is comfortable and conducive to a good night’s sleep. No screens, the right temperature, and a good mattress are some of the first considerations. If no changes you make help with severe nightmares, talk to a doctor to see if together you can pinpoint causes you might have overlooked.