Few things are worse than the feeling that hits you when you wake up from a horrible nightmare. You’re sweating, you’re terrified, you don’t feel safe, and, for a few seconds, you aren’t even sure where you are. As your eyes adjust to the darkness and you try to calm yourself down, you can’t help but feel anxious… and sometimes you can’t even get back to sleep. If this happens to you on a fairly regular basis, you’re probably willing to do just about anything to keep bad dreams away. Luckily, some of the hacks for making sure you never get nightmares again are pretty simple.


Nightmares typically occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, when your muscles are in a state of paralysis, your eyes are moving rapidly, and your brain is still giving commands in the motor complex. While scientists don’t know exactly why we dream or have nightmares, they believe it’s a result of the way the brain is managing subconscious thoughts. Researchers also believe that what you do during the day plays an important role in the nightmares you may or may not have.

So, to avoid nightmares, you have to change what you’re doing during the day and right before your head hits the pillow. Since researchers don’t fully understand dreams, these tips aren’t foolproof, but they have sometimes been shown to be effective. You may need to test a few out before finding something that works for you.

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1. Meditate before bed.


Stress and anxiety can seriously affect the way you sleep and dream. Both can trigger nightmares. One study found that German athletes were more likely to report distressing dreams before a big event. And think about it: You usually don’t get a lot of sleep when you’re worried about something going on the next day. To avoid nightmares, try clearing your mind and relaxing before bed. One way to do this is to meditate each night. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and there are plenty of guided meditation apps or videos online that you can use. Our favorite right now is Headspace.

2. Start using a white noise machine.


According to The Sleep Advisor, “our brain usually incorporates everyday stimuli into our dreams and nightmares.” The site also says that white noise is known for bringing pleasant memories to someone, so white noise machines can lead to a more peaceful state of mind while one is sleeping. Examples include the ocean breeze, rain, or even crickets chirping. A white noise machine should help you feel more relaxed as you sleep, keeping nightmares at bay.

3. Create the most calm space possible.

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Again, you really want to focus on being relaxed when you’re sleeping in order to avoid nightmares. Your bed and bedroom have an effect on your state of being, even if you don’t realize that. If you’re sleeping in a cluttered, messy area, you might not be as relaxed, allowing negative thoughts into your mind. Create a space that instantly makes you feel more relaxed and happy, whether it means adding extra soft pillows or lighting a candle before bed (just blow it out!).

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4. Use a rose-scented pillow spray. 


What you smell while you sleep or right before you sleep can actually make a difference when it comes to your dreams. One German study released the smell of either rotten eggs or roses into the rooms of people who were sleeping in REM phase. When they woke up, the people who reported more positive dreams had smelled roses, while the people who smelled eggs reported negative dreams. Try spritzing your pillow with a rose-scented spray. Lavender is also said to be a calming and pleasant scent as well. This Herbivore Botanicals Rose Face Spray is also a great option.

5. Check your medications.


Are you regularly taking medication and always having bad dreams? If so, you might want to check them out and speak with your doctor. Some drugs and other substances can have psychedelic effects on a person, which can impact their dreams at night. According to AmeriSleep, medicine that influences neurotransmitters can influence your nightmares, which includes antidepressants, narcotics, and barbiturates.

6. Don’t snack right before bed.


If you’ve gotten into the habit of eating something right before you fall asleep, you should try to get out of it. One study found that going to sleep on a full stomach triggered nightmare-inducing brain waves. Try to avoid eating within an hour of getting some shut-eye.

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7. Avoid watching scary or disturbing things before bed.


It’s no coincidence that you often have nightmares after watching something scary. Terrifying movies, TV shows, or even really stressful news shows can actually translate to bad dreams. Sometimes these things can cause stress and anxiety in people, which can lead to nightmares. Avoid watching anything really scary before you go to sleep, and instead watch it earlier in the evening or during the day to give your brain some time to relax.

8. Write in a journal before going to sleep.

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Another way to get over the stress and anxiety that could be causing your nightmares is to keep a journal. But you don’t want to write about just anything: if you write about the bad stuff, that’s what you’ll think about while you’re sleeping, and you might have nightmares. You should write about positive experiences and emotions instead, to keep your mind more positive while you’re sleeping.

9. Make sure it’s not too hot or too cold.


The temperature of the room you’re sleeping in plays a big part of your dreams. According to Sleep Foundation, experts say that temps around 65 degrees makes for the best sleep. Being too hot or too cold is going to make you feel uncomfortable and could lead to insomnia. You want that perfect middle ground, which is usually 65 degrees, although it depends on your internal body temperature.

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10. Do yoga and/or work out daily.


In order to really fight nightmares, you need to change what you do throughout the day, not just right before you go to sleep. To get through stress and anxiety, try doing yoga or exercising each day. Studies have shown that exercise releases endorphins that make you feel happier and more calm.

11. Analyze your dreams.


To get rid of nightmares, you might need to re-visit some you’ve already had, especially if they’re recurring. According to Bustle, you should try “rescripting.” This means thinking about the dream when you’re awake, but changing the outcome to something positive instead of negative. You should also analyze your dream to connect it to your life, which might help you stop focusing on whatever it is your brain is focused on.

12. Avoid screens 30 minutes before bed.


At this point, you’ve probably heard the advice about not looking at your phone, TV, or computer before bed. Screen time can mess with your sleep cycle, making it harder for you to fall asleep and giving you a more restless sleep in general. A half hour before bed, put all of the screens away for good, and either focus on meditating, talking to someone, or reading a book (an actual book, not on an e-reader).

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13. Stay away from certain foods.

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Certain foods are going to increase your chances of having a nightmare, especially if they’re eaten right before bed. One study found that Tabasco sauce and mustard at dinner disturbed the sleep of six male subjects, and they believe that’s because spicy food can raise your body temperature. Another study found that junk food can trigger more brain waves, which caused seven of ten participants to have nightmares while sleeping.

14. Make sure your room is really dark.


Light affects your sleep more than you realize, leading to a restless sleep or more bad dreams. This is why you’re always advised to turn your phone off or put it on nighttime mode, to always shut your TV off, and to avoid nightlights. Keep your room dark to stay relaxed and have a better sleep. It’s also a good idea to wear an eye mask to ensure any light that may turn on doesn’t get in your eyes.


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