How to Have Fewer Nightmares: Causes and Practical Tips
Sleep & Dreams
October 31, 2023

How to Have Fewer Nightmares: Causes and Practical Tips

We know from experience that enduring recurring nightmares is exhausting. We understand how waking up with a racing heart and a mind tangled in fear can steal little bits of joy from your following day. If you are stuck in a relentless cycle of recurrent nightmares that have left you yearning for positive dreams and peaceful nights, we are here to help.

The great news is that you do not need to suffer! With the right tools and assistance, you can conquer your dream content and learn how to have fewer nightmares.

In this comprehensive guide, we unravel the mysteries of recurring dreams, explore tangible solutions you can implement at home, and discuss when to see a professional. Most of all, we help you return comfort to your sleep, confidence to your nights and take the next step toward dream mastery.

Negative Dreams: Nightmares vs. Night Terrors

Disturbing dreams come in two distinct forms. The first is nightmares. According to the DSM 5 (AKA the backbone of modern psychology), nightmares are well-remembered, extended dreams involving threats to our survival, security, or physical integrity. They mainly occur during REM and may plunge us into intense fear, sadness, or anxiety. Nightmares center around themes that leave us emotionally raw upon waking. When you wake up from a nightmare, you become oriented and alert. These disturbances link strongly to stress, anxiety, medication, and substance abuse.

By contrast, Night terrors occur during non-REM sleep in the night's first half. Unlike nightmares, you will not fully wake up, and you may experience intense fear. Picture thrashing in bed or even screaming, yet awakening with no recollection. After a night of terror, many have no recollection of the dream. Night terrors in adults are often a symptom of PTSD, psychiatric diagnoses, burnout, and sleep deprivation.

So, what can we do to improve our sleep routine and dream experience?

Preparing for Peaceful Sleep

Achieving restful nights, free from recurring unpleasant dreams, is an art. And just like in painting, how well you prepare your canvas matters. Adequate sleep hygiene, or how you prepare for bed, is how you prepare your canvas and determine the quality of your dream function.

To reduce nightmares, we can prepare for pleasurable dreams with simple yet powerful interventions like:

However, nightmares are not always harmful. They also help us resolve conflicts that our waking minds cannot. Therefore, they are immensely valuable and we do not want to remove them altogether. Instead, we want to edit out those damaging our sleep hygiene and overall health.

There are many more easy interventions you can begin with to improve your general dream content. So take a moment and check out our article on Tips For Better Sleep for a more detailed look.

How To Combat Frequent Bad Dreams

In the whirlwind of daily life, stress intricately weaves itself into the fabric of our dreams. As that stress settles, our minds try to cope, increasing the likelihood of nightmare issues.

A leading dream study suggests nightmares are our mind's attempt to resolve these conflicts. This is why the more conflicts and stress in your life, the more nightmares you are likely to have. Our experience of stress is complex and is caused by psychological, biological, and environmental factors.

To soothe your system, you need to address all three. Luckily, if you practice good sleep hygiene, you are probably already addressing the environmental factors. Next, you need to ask yourself: Am I experiencing unresolved anxiety, trauma, or other difficult emotions? Have I been caring for my physical well-being?

If you are at a loss on what to do next, here are a few effective avenues to try at home:

Even without pinpointing your biggest nightmare triggers, these steps help to liberate you from distressing dreamscapes. An even more effective tool to escape recurrent nightmares is lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming teaches you not only to survive your nightmares but also how to take control of your dreamscape.

Lucid Dreaming Therapy: Take Control of Your Dreams

A dream study, Lucid Dreaming Treatment for Nightmares, looked into lucid dreaming treatment (LDT) on chronic nightmares. Twenty-three participants with chronic nightmares for at least six months were randomly assigned to either the LDT group or the control group. The LDT group received a two-hour session of lucid dreaming training, while the control group did not.

The results?

LDT significantly reduced nightmare frequency and distress and increased general well-being. While research is ongoing, this study showed that LDT can be an effective treatment for chronic nightmares.

Being able to lucid dream, then, is having the superpower to alter the course of a nightmare, transforming fear into empowerment. To lucid dream, you need to identify your biggest nightmare triggers. Once you have recognized recurring dream patterns, you can use them as a trigger for achieving lucid awareness—a dance of control within the dream itself.

The best part? Lucid dreaming is a skill you can learn for a more liberated dream experience. Check out How to Have Lucid Dreams to learn more.

When Do You Need Professional Help with Recurring Nightmare?

If you are trying our techniques and still feel no better, it is time to reach out for professional support. While we can often self-guide through dream journaling, stress management techniques, and excellent sleep hygiene, sometimes we need more help.

Treating underlying mental health conditions is essential to having fewer recurring nightmares since nightmares are often a sign of something broader happening in your psyche. Engaging with a licensed therapist and talking about the thoughts and emotions that trigger your nightmares can help end them. As well as reduce your overall associated anxiety

Other possible causes can be medications, medical disorders, or trauma history. If you have any other symptoms that started around the same time as your nightmares, you are not alone and deserve help finding your way back to health.

This is because Nightmares and Night Terrors alike can be a sign of much deeper medical and psychological imbalances. Including ineffective medications, temporal lobe epilepsy, sleep apnea, and heart disorders. They are also hallmark presentations of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be caused by a traumatic event, including a time when there was a threat of severe injury or death to yourself, known as Trauma (big T). Notably, C-PTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder, can also be caused by any situation in which you feel intense, prolonged exposure to events that are extremely threatening. These situations lead to intense feelings of fear, helplessness, and significant distress in situations and result in trauma (little t).

Trauma treatment is an entire subsection of Clinical psychology that clinicians train years in to have the skills necessary to guide patients.

Professionals will be able to look at your dream content and nightmare issues holistically and:


If your nightmares cast a shadow over bedtime, it's time to address them so that you can rest.

To learn how to have fewer nightmares, we first need to appreciate that our recurring dreams, filled with familiar faces and recognizable signs, offer a unique window into our subconscious. Scary dreams are a natural and essential part of how our minds resolve the stressors in our lives. To have fewer nightmares, we must confront them, understand them, and learn to interact with them. Only then will our dreams enable our recovery, and only then can we enjoy an introspective sleep experience.

So, are you ready to embark on a journey into your dream world? Download the Oniri app and start recording your dreams, analyzing them, and learning lucid dreaming. The app has plenty of tools to help you in this journey. Good luck exploring your dreams and if you need help, we're here!

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