The disturbing dreams that cause you to lurch from sleep, breathless, drenched in sweat aren’t just upsetting and disruptive to a restful night’s sleep, they are actually bad for your health. Whether you experience falling, or running, or wading in slow-motion away from something scary that’s chasing you (that’s my personal sleep maelstrom), stress dreams have been linked with headaches, insomnia, and even depression and anxiety.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 5 to 8 percent of adults report they have a problem with nightmares. Sleep experts say the impact goes beyond the sweat-drenched PJs.
Stress nightmares are unsettling. But there are a few things we can do before bed to keep the monsters under the bed at bay.
Let it go: Performing a ritual that allows me to let go of my day is essential for me. I usually write in my journal, sometimes I say a prayer or meditate. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and let go of any worry or regret I have about how my waking hours transpired. It also allows me to celebrate my daily successes.
What (Not) to Eat to Sleep: A little food in your belly might help you sleep, but certain foods bring on the boogey man. Foods high in fat have been shown to disrupt sleep cycles. However, foods like diary, nuts and seeds, bananas, honey, and eggs can carry you off to sweet-dream-land. These foods are high in tryptophan, a substance that promotes drowsiness. It’s the very same thing that makes you tired after Thanksgiving dinner.
Stretch time: Certain yoga poses and stretches can help you relax and prepare for sleep. There are plenty of resources out there, but experts seem to indicate that stretches that target the back and hamstrings – like spinal twists and positions wherein your bum is touching or close to the wall and your legs extend upwards – are the way to ease into slumber.
While nightmares are upsetting, you can use them to your advantage. Dr. Alex Lukeman, author of “Nightmares, How to Make Sense of Your Darkest Dreams” reminds us that our dreams are trying to tell us something. So use even the scary ones as a signal to tune into something that wants to emerge. (And not like the nightmare-inducing scene featured John Hurt in Alien.)