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Halloween is just around the corner, and in keeping with the theme of all things scary and haunting, we are going to fill you in on one of the most terrifying parts of sleeping: the dreaded nightmare. A nightmare is defined as “an unpleasant dream that can cause a strong emotional response from the mind, typically fear or horror, but also despair, anxiety and great sadness.” If you thought nightmares were just for kids, than you thought wrong. Adults also experience nightmares, approximately one every month.

Nightmare vs. Night Terror

It is important to note the difference between these two terms. You are more inclined to experience nightmares during your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (most often in the early morning hours, when your REM sleep is longest), whereas night terrors usually strike within the first few hours after falling asleep. Night terrors are more feelings and aren’t actually dreams; this results in people having no recollection of the night terror, but still waking up alarmed.

What Causes Nightmares?

Eating before bed is considered to be a potential trigger. When you eat before sleeping, it increases your brain activity and boosts your metabolism, which can lead to nightmares. If you suffer from anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) you are at higher risk of experience nightmares. Many drugs, including antidepressants and narcotics (drugs that act on chemicals in the brain), as well as some blood pressure medications, are often linked with nightmares. Sleep disorders are also said to have a connection with nightmares. Both sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can cause nightmares.

How to Avoid Nightmares

Try not to eat a few hours before bed. Allow your body time to digest and wind down before sleeping. As we’ve mentioned before, your body loves and responds well to routine. When nightmares are concerned, this still rings true. Keeping a routine wake-sleep pattern can help ward off those bad dreams. Exercise is another key element, as it helps relieve the most common sources of nightmares (anxiety and stress). Sleep deprivation is a vicious cycle that can also bring on nightmares, so maintaining healthy sleep hygiene is essential. Your bed needs to be reserved for sleeping, therefore any stressful activities should be taken out of the bedroom. If something stressful occurs, you may subconsciously associate the area with stress, thus leading to nightmares. And of course, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine should be avoided before bed. The stimulants can upset your sleep patterns and linger in your system for over 12 hours.

Do you suffer from nightmares or night terrors? What is your scariest one to date?

Join us Wednesday, October 29th for our Halloween themed twitter chat discussing all things scary and strange about nightmares!