There’s a reason we wish one another “sweet dreams” before bed. Dreams can be wild, inspiring, and blissful. They can also be unpleasant and frightening.
Sometimes, they’re just downright weird – like dreaming about accidentally showing up to work in your underwear.
If you’ve ever wondered if you can choose to have a nice dream over a terrifying nightmare, the answer isn’t as cut and dry as you would probably like.
While youcan increase your chances of having a nice dream, our dreams are something that we can’t fully control. Moreover, we don’t totally understand the science of dreaming.
That said, scientists do have some theories about why we dream…
Why Do We Dream, Anyway?
Before we can examine if there’s a way to learn how to have a nice dream over a nightmare, we must first take a closer look at why we dream in the first place.
Dreams are difficult to research, as they’re subjective and easily forgotten upon waking. However, everyone dreams, whether they remember their dreams in the morning or not.
Dreams are thought to be abstract storylines that may sometimes relate to something happening in your waking life.
Dream interpreters even have theories about how the subject matter of our dreams relates to our subconscious mind, giving insight into our deepest fears and desires.
For example, if things are going well in your waking life, your dreams are more likely to be positive and uplifting.
On the other hand, if you’ve experienced something traumatic in your life, nightmares may quickly become a stressful disruption.
Distressing dreams are a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The theory behind this connection ties back to the idea that our brains can’t process and store traumatic memories, causing distressing thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares.
This may cause a fear of sleeping, only worsening sleep deprivation. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is widely used as a treatment for PTSDand nightmares.
If you suspect that painful memories and experiences are causing your distressing dreams, consult with a mental health professional for proper treatment.
Sometimes, however, stressful dreams may not be connected to previous trauma at all.
Recent research suggeststhat bad dreams could help you prepare to face dangerous situations in real life.
For example, you may dream about running from harm, avoiding a natural disaster, or experiencing an awkward social situation in order to simulate the experience in case it actually happens.
This helps your brain formulate a plan to take action if confronted with these experiences in the future.
Now that we know why we have both positive dreams and painful, frightening ones, let’s turn our attention to potential solutions that can boost your chances of having more good ones.
That afternoon cup of joe could be the culprit.
Cut Down on Caffeine
If bad dreams are plaguing your nights, your favorite cup of coffee or tea might be the cause.
Caffeine is a stimulant. As a result, it distresses sleep by ramping up our adrenaline.
Therefore, if you’ve had loads of caffeine throughout the day or you’ve drank caffeinated tea right before bed, your brain will become more active than usual once you fall asleep.
Bad dreams may follow, disrupting sleep. You might drink more caffeine than usual the next day due to sleep deprivation and grogginess caused by poor sleep quality. It’s a vicious cycle!
To prevent this pattern and finally break the cycle, avoid any sources of caffeine after 2p.m. each day.
As you avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evenings, you might want to opt for more pleasant, happy entertainment rather than scary movies or horror novels.
Avoid Distressing Media and Conversations
Believe it or not, the content we consume influences our brain activity.
If you enjoy thrilling or scary movies, books, or video games, beware. Consuming this type of content before bed might cause your brain to create its own terrifying narrative as you rest.
Studies showthat the activities we take part in before sleep influence our dreams. Therefore, it’s important to wind down with calming, happy activities before bed to boost your chances of better dreams (and sleep).
Moreover, blue light produced by electronics is proven to throw offour circadian rhythm, disrupting sleep patterns.
Our brains confuse the light produced by televisions, phones, computers, or tablets with sunlight. Then, the production of the sleep hormone melatonin is interrupted, keeping us awake.
Heavy meals and snacking boost our metabolism, causing it to work harder to process and digest food.
While we rest, our digestive system needs to rest, too. If the metabolism is ramped up when we go to bed, brain activity rises and increases the risk of bad dreams.
Stop eating within two to three hours before bedtime to give your digestive system (and brain) a break overnight.
The same can be said for your nightly glass of wine.
Quit Drinking Alcohol At Least 3 Hours Before Bed
If you like to drink a few beers after dinner or sip on your favorite glass of vino during your nightly bubble bath, bad dreams may follow.
According to dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, drinking before bed lessens the amount of time spent in REM sleep, leading to lowered sleep quality.
To take it a step further, if you go to sleep drunk, you’re not actually going to sleep naturally. Going to bed after too much alcohol is more similar to passing out than naturally cycling through all of the sleep phases.
That means you’ll wake up more often, feel groggy in the morning, and experience more disruptive dreams than usual.
If you plan to have evening drinks, stop drinking within two or three hours prior to sleep. Moreover, try to drink a glass of water for every drink to prevent severe dehydration.
By avoiding alcohol before bed, you’ll also avoid building up sleep debt, which is just as hard to pay off as credit card debt!
Pay off Sleep Debt With SomniFix
If you don’t get enough sleep, catching up is hard. Oversleeping on the weekends causes more harm than good when it comes to correcting these patterns, too.
The key to paying off sleep debt is to establish and maintain a proper sleep schedule, no matter what day of the week it is.
That means getting around eight hours of sleep each night, keeping a consistent bedtime, and waking up at the same time every morning.
Once you establish a healthy nighttime routine and add avoid triggers that lead to disrupted sleep, you can finally have the nice dreams you’ve been craving.