Sleep Disorders

08 July 2020

An expert's guide to keeping bad dreams at bay

According to a director of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it's natural that the fears and stressors of daily life creep into our dreams.

  • In stressful times, it is to be expected that our daily worries find their way into our dreams
  • Sleeping less soundly and waking up more often can make us remember more of our dreams
  • There are numerous ways to help us get a good night's sleep

If you're having nightmares during these stressful times, rest easy: A sleep expert says it's to be expected.

"Your experiences and interactions during the day can affect your dreams, and right now many of us are spending time watching the news or reading articles that are downright scary," said Jennifer Martin, a director of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "It's natural that the fears and stressors of daily life make their way into our dreams."

This is called dream incorporation, and it occurs when your real-life experiences show up in your dreams, she explained in an academy news release.

Martin added that changes in sleep patterns – including fragmented sleep – can make people sleep less soundly, which means they remember more of their dreams.

A good night's sleep

"Most of your dreams take place during the 'rapid eye movement' or REM sleep stage," Martin said. "Typically, you'll need to wake up during or shortly after a dream to remember it."

You can reduce disturbing dreams by getting a good night's sleep, so Martin offered some tips:

  • Have consistent times for going to sleep and waking up. Adults need seven or more hours a night on a regular basis for ideal health.
  • Limit your exposure to stressful news near bedtime so you're not dwelling on it as you try to doze off.
  • For at least 30 minutes before turning off the lights, prepare your body for sleep. Some good ways to unwind include reading, listening to soothing music or meditating.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine, because both can disrupt sleep quality.
  • Deal with your worries and stress during the day. For example, writing down your thoughts can help release worries so you're not dwelling on them when you go to bed.

If disrupted sleep or nightmares persist, speak with a sleep professional, Martin advised.

Image credit: Getty Images


Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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