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September 30, 2019

How To Go Back To Sleep After a Nightmare

The meaning behind dreams has always been a bit of a mystery. There have been theories consisting of randomly firing neurons that have no order or meaning to the Freudian belief that dreams reveal our deep unconscious desires. One thing that seems to be agreed on is that our external stimulus from when we are awake, seems to have some effect on our dreams either directly or indirectly. If you watch a scary movie, you are more likely to have a nightmare. While if you just had a really good date, you’re more likely to dream about living happily ever after. Whether you know what is causing your nightmares or not, we have a few tips to try and help you get back to sleep.

go back to sleep after a nightmare

Get Back To Sleep

falling asleep when scaredThis should always be your number 1 attempt after a nightmare. Typically waking up from a nightmare is jolting and your gut reaction may be to get up and start moving.

Attempt to take a few deep breaths, quickly check in with reality and then try to get back to sleep. If you attempt to get back to sleep quickly your body is more likely to adapt and allow you to fall back asleep faster than if you were to get up and remain awake for a while.

Ignore The Time

scary movies keeping me awakeLooking at the clock may add to the stress of your evening. Leaving you thinking about how many hours you have left until you need to wake up or staring at the minutes tick by wondering why it is taking you so long to get back to sleep. Instead, ignore the clock.

The time is not important at this moment. Your alarm clock will go off in the morning and you can think about the time then. Right now simply focus on getting back to sleep.

Check In With Reality

can't get to sleep after a nightmareDreams can be intense and feel very real. When you’re waking up in the middle of the night, it can be hard to distinguish what was real and what was a part of the dream.

So if you had a dream of loosing your teeth remind yourself that they are still there you can even look in a mirror if you have to. Or if you had a dream that your dog ran away, check on your dog and give them a hug. You can even bring them into the bed with you. Just do whatever you need to in order to remind yourself that you are not living in that nightmare.

Calm Your Breathing

breath deeply to ease anxiety and get to sleepIf you’re waking up in full panic mode (cold sweats, racing heart, heavy breathing, etc) take a moment to focus completely on slowing down breathing and calming your body.

Count ten seconds for breathing in and ten seconds for breathing out. By taking slow deep breaths your heart rate will naturally start to slow down as well, the extra oxygen intake will also calm you down. This will make it much easier to get back to sleep.

get a small glass of water to get back to sleep

Take a Water Break

If you have tried laying in bed and getting back to sleep and you are still too shaken from your dream, take a minute to walk around.

Use the restroom or get a drink of water. Try to keep these activities short and get back into bed as soon as you have had enough time to calm yourself down.

Keep the Lights Low

drinking tea to ease nerves from nightmaresWhile you’re doing this try to only turn on minimal soft lighting. If you turn on bright lights, your mind will take this as signals to wake up in order to start the day. By keeping your lights turned down low it will be easier to fall asleep later.

Cup of Tea

Make yourself a warm caffeine free drink. It does not have to be a cup of herbal tea, any warm non caffeinated drink will do. Whether you enjoy warm milk or hot chocolate, the soothing nature of a warm drink helps to calm nerves. Just be sure whatever you choose is not too high in caffeine or sugar, as this will naturally wake you up.

Check out some of our favorite foods and drinks to have before bed and a list of what to avoid on our post Best and Worst Foods Before Bed.

Change Your Sleep Location

listen to music to get over scary moviesSometimes changing your surroundings can help get you back to sleeping normally. While sleeping in bed is always the first choice, if you need to adjust a bit or read a book with a soft light on, your may end up annoying your sleep partner. If you need to, try sleeping in a new area.

Listen To Music

Try turning off all of the lights and listening to some music or a favorite podcast. The distraction may be just enough to allow your mind to relax and slowly drift back to sleep. We have a whole article all on different music to listen to for falling asleep, you can check it out at Best Music For Sleep.

Cool Off

overheating during sleepLots of people get overheated during nightmares. We suggest pulling back some of your bedding and changing into cooler pajamas if you need to.

If you have trouble waking up overheated often, try keeping a glass of water by your bed. This can bring some quick relief after a nightmare.

Your mattress could be what is making you so sleep at night. Click the link to view our Best Mattresses for Hot Sleepers.


meditation helps to calm you down after a nightmareMeditation is all about calming the mind and body while releasing tension from the body.

You don’t even need to sit up straight in order to practice this either. There are some led meditations if you need or want a little guidance. We suggest attempting to meditate while laying down.

Write it Out

dream diaries can help you get back to sleep after a nightmareIf your dream is stuck in your head, getting it out and onto paper can help you get some much needed rest later.

Keep a dream journal by your bed and if you have a nightmare, write it down. Often times the experience of having the nightmare is far worse than the content of the dream. Writing it out often gives a lot of perspective.

Check out of page on Meditation for Sleep, Anxiety & Healing to learn more about how meditation can benefit your sleep habits.

Ways To Avoid Nightmares – 

avoid the nightmares all togetherOne way to keep nightmares from interrupting your sleep is to not have any in the first place. The following are a few of our simple tips that are helpful to lower your chances of having a nightmare.

  • Stick to a Sleep Schedule
  • Avoid Caffeine & Alcohol
  • Cut Out Late Night Snacks
  • Limit Sugar and Salt
  • Avoid Scary Movies & Stimulating Content

Do you love watching Scary Movies, but you find you can’t get to sleep later? We have some tips for you! Check out our page about How To Sleep After Watching Horror Movies to learn how. 

At the end of the day, getting back to sleep is your main goal. If there is any habit that you can take out of your night schedule that could possibly limit the amount of nightmares you are having, then cutting it out of your routine will totally be worth it. Anything else you can do to calm yourself down and relaxed enough to fall back asleep is worth giving a try. We hope our tips help you get over your nightmares and back to sleep for some sweeter dreams.

getting to sleep

Need help setting a healthy sleep schedule? Check out our How To Fix Your Sleep Schedule to learn how.