Chronic Nightmares: Is There Relief?
It was once theorized that dreams and nightmares were due to stress or anxiety that was built up, and your mind was creating a “movie” of these thoughts. Although this may still be true, it may be a more serious issue that involves repetition and has qualities of a sleep disorder. We have all had those terrifying dreams that scared us wide awake. It may have made falling back asleep seem impossible, as the lingering effects of the vividness and reality of your dream was hard to shake. Sometimes a person will have the same nightmare several times with very little difference in each one. Some people would shrug it off as just having bad dreams about pent up anxiety on a certain issue, but could it be more than just anxiety and stress?
In some cases, having chronic nightmares can cause insomnia. These nightmares can be the result of other sleep disorders like sleep apnea or even PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Stress and anxiety are other causes of having chronic nightmares, as well as alcohol abuse, being assaulted, natural disasters or any terrifying ordeal.
Nightmares cause a variety of emotions ranging from sadness, anger, fear, to any other negative emotion. These nightmares can disrupt your sleep cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Now how do you know if you had a bad dream or a nightmare? Well a great quote by Ross Levin, a psychologist who studies nightmares, hit the nail on the head.
“Bad dreams would be bad dreams we remember in the morning and say, I had a bad dream last night,” said Levin. “Nightmares are dreams that jackknife you up in the middle of the night in a sweat.”
Not sure that there is an easier way to explain the difference. Thank you, Ross Levin.
So what can be done about the disorder of chronic nightmares that disrupt your sleep routine? There are different steps that can be taken. Some people may use psychotherapy to help discuss emotional stressors or issues that could be plaguing a person. Speaking with a therapist about any issues that may be causing increased stress or anxiety may help alleviate any built up emotions, easing away the nightmares they have.
There are prescription medications that can be taken that have been shown to decrease and help with these nightmares, most commonly used on a person who is suffering from PTSD.
Another effective treatment involves simple behavioral therapy called imaginary rehearsal therapy (IRT). IRT in essence is rewriting the script in which your nightmare is based off. It can be easy to learn and very effective in the long run. It is a basic 3-step process:
- Write down your most recent nightmare, including as much detail about the dream as possible. It is advised to not write down a dream that is hard to cope with or relive, so pick a recent nightmare that isn’t too upsetting.
- After replaying your nightmare and recording it on paper, think of ways to alter the dream so that the ending is not so frightening. Use your trusty intuition on how to change and alter the nightmare. It does not have to be transformed into a positive dream; you can alter the order of events and add or remove characters.
- Spend time each day and before going to sleep replaying this revised dream in your head. Play it as a movie in your mind, rehearsing and replaying it over and over again.
Many people find it hard to believe that something so easy can be so effective. A study has shown that 70% – 80% of people who tried IRT had significant relief from their nightmares. It may seem that keeping it simple may be the most effective treatment option.
Do you suffer from chronic nightmares and have had success in diffusing them? Post in our comments about your experience and share with others who may be on the fence about seeking help!