Nightmares: try a new perspective for better sleep

Let’s be honest:  nightmares are disturbing.  While all of us experience them from time to time, nightmares may cause a significant loss of sleep to some people who find them particularly troubling.  Some are so fearful of a nightmare they dread just the idea of falling asleep.

Those who struggle with nightmares might be helped by taking a different and more realistic perspective.  We suggest trying to see nightmares for what they really are, and understand what they aren’t.

What they aren’t are real.  No matter how disturbing the images or negative the emotions may be, they’re still only dreams.

They cannot hurt you.

What dreams really are is a manifestation of REM sleep, and REM sleep is good.  It’s healthy.  To reach a REM stage of sleep, we normally go through all the preceding stages of NREM sleep, also known as deep or slow wave sleep.

The NREM stages are the most physically restorative stages of sleep, so if you have dreams, even nightmares, you can be assured of receiving the physical benefits of deep sleep.

You can choose to view REM dream sleep, regardless of content, as serving a beneficial purpose.  Through our dreams, we process experience.  We consolidate short term memories from each day, give meaning and perspective to them, and possibly convert the experiences into long term memory.  Using REM sleep, we in effect re-set our emotional balance, our mood, for a fresh new day.

Nightmares, in particular, may also represent a subconscious effort to cleanse or purge ourselves of painful memories or trauma.  It’s a form of a catharsis.  Think of it like this: getting cleansed of traumatic experiences in our dreams is far better and healthier than living it during our waking hours.

How we interpret dreams is a choice we make and can control.  While we cannot control the content of our dreams, we can consciously choose how we react to them.  By understanding nightmares in more realistic and accurate terms, it’s easier to just let them go by saying, “whew!  I’m glad that was only a dream!”  And it then may be easier to relax and fall back asleep.

Understanding nightmares for what they really are is a form of cognitive restructuring, one of the core components of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT).  If you have been experiencing sleep problems, CBT is one of the very best ways to permanently improve sleep.  The methods in CBT are completely drug-free and help most everyone.  Many who try CBT become normal sleepers again.

For more information on using CBT for insomnia, or to ask a sleep question, please feel free to contact us.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, Nightmares, sleep

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One Comment on “Nightmares: try a new perspective for better sleep”

  1. […] previously discussed ways to understand the potentially beneficial roles nightmares play, both as a form of dreaming, and […]

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