Hack Your Dreams — 5 Ways to Nix Your Nightmares
by Catherine Morris | March 2, 2021, updated about 1 month ago
Nightmares are an unfortunate part of life, and they come in many forms. You might be chased down by a monster, show up naked in a meeting, find yourself free-falling, or get stuck in quicksand. If your nightmare is rooted in real-life trauma, you might even be forced to relive a painful memory or replay a specific incident.
Whatever form your nightmares take, they're not just a nocturnal nuisance, they can seriously disrupt your sleep… which can seriously disrupt your health. If you're tired of waking in terror and then battling brain fog and fatigue through the day, the below tips might just get back to your well-rested self.
1. Be Choosy With Your Cheese
A 2005 study from the British Cheese Board set out to examine this myth, and parse fact from fiction. Trial participants ate a small piece of cheese about 30 minutes before bedtime and kept a dream diary to chart their results, which turned out to be extremely interesting.
Researchers found that while the volunteers didn't report nightmares as such, different varieties of cheese appeared to yield different types of dreams. A robust blue Stilton, for instance, gave people more intense and vivid dreams, while Cheshire usually resulted in a peaceful, dreamless night.
Snack on Red Leicester and you're likely to dream about nostalgic family moments. Eat Lancashire cheese and you can expect to dream about work. Fancy some cheddar? You're likely to dream about celebrities.
Admittedly, the findings are from an industry study that hasn't been peer reviewed, but it's a good place to start if your dreams are driving you crazy. If you're prone to nightmares, maybe try nibbling some Cheshire before bed and skip the Stilton from the after-dinner cheese plate.
Don’t be tempted to pair that cheese with a glass of wine though! Alcohol is a sleep disruptor and can leave you tossing and turning all night.
2. Pick Soothing Scents
Cheese isn't the only thing that can affect the type of dreams you have. Smells are also a trigger for emotions, even when you're sleeping.
Negative and positive smells can yield negative and positive dreams, so make sure there's nothing stinky in your bedroom and perhaps try a little aromatherapy to create the right ambience.
Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, bergamot, jasmine, and ylang ylang can relax the body and promote better sleep hygiene so you can drift away with ease. Just be careful using them around pets and younger members of the family, and if in doubt, consult with an experienced aromatherapist.
3. Pay Attention to the Calendar
There's a little bit of werewolf in all of us, apparently, as we're more likely to have a bad night's sleep around a full moon. If there's one coming up on the calendar, now's the time to think about optimizing your bedtime routine and environment.
When it's that time of the month (not that one, the other one), guard against any lunar lunacy by avoiding blue light in the evening, limiting caffeine, keeping your bedroom cool, and having a long soak in the tub with relaxing essential oils thrown in for good measure.
4. Watch the Pills and Supplements
Melatonin can actually give you bad dreams—by encouraging more REM sleep, which is when our dreams are at their most vivid. The same goes for several common sleep medications so check the side effects and speak to your doctor if you're worried the pills are the problem.
5. Stay Positive
Our nightmares are often a reflection of what's going on under the hood. Just as our body sends us signals for physical ailments, your nightmares might well be a symptom of mental health issues. If you're not taking care of what's happening in your head, then it can show up in your dreams.
Research shows that people who have a positive mindset and less anxiety in their waking life, are more likely to have peaceful dreams. So, if you're experiencing nightmares on the regular it might be time to try meditation or meet with a counsellor to look at how to make positive change.
More Tips and Tricks
Put a notebook by the bed and, as soon as you wake in the morning, jot down what you remember of your dreams. It'll be tough at first, but your dream recall will quickly start to improve if you're journalling consistently. If you want a shortcut, here's a pro tip—supplementing with vitamin B6 will help you remember 'significantly' more of your dreams.
You can also try to take control of your dreams with lucid dreaming. Lucid dreamers know when they're dreaming, and the most experienced can even control their actions while they're under. Enthusiasts claim almost anyone can learn the technique, although it does take time and dedicated practice.
If your bad dreams are a chronic condition and it's impacting every aspect of your life, both in and out of bed, consider talking to someone. An experienced therapist or counsellor can help you examine what might be tormenting your subconscious and help you resolve those lingering issues.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.