Search

SHOULD YOU WAKE SOMEONE UP FROM A NIGHTMARE

Nightmares are unsettling and distressing dreams that can affect individuals of all ages. Whether you are the one experiencing the nightmare, or someone you care about is going through it, the experience can be stressful and the question arises: should you wake someone up from a nightmare?

This article aims to explore the nature of nightmares, their potential causes, their impact on sleep quality, and the best approach to dealing with them for the bystander.

Table of Contents

What Are Nightmares?

Nightmares are vivid, intense, and frightening dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep where most dreaming takes place. If you are an adult experiencing nightmares, know that you are not alone. According to WebMD, 1 in 2 adults have nightmares from time to time, while 2 to 8% of adults are plagued by nightmares. Nightmares are more common than you think in adults, and should not be taboo.

During a nightmare, individuals may experience feelings of terror, fear, or anxiety, often accompanied by physiological responses such as increased heart rate and sweating. As your REM sleep phases get longer as your night goes on, it is normal to experience more nightmares in the early morning hours. They will typically wake up the sleeper from deep sleep, leaving them feeling distressed and disoriented, potentially making difficult to fall back asleep.

While nightmares are spontaneous, experiences, trauma, and other underlying disorders or events can be the cause for the nightmares. Something as simple and innocent as a late-night snack can kick in your metabolism and induce nightmares. Some medications, antidepressants, narcotics, and blood-pressure medications, as well as conditions such as sleep apnea, deprivation, or PTSD, are also known to induce nightmares.

The Purpose of Dreams and Nightmares

Dreams, including nightmares, have intrigued humans for centuries and are still lacking understanding. Psychologists and researchers have proposed various theories about the purpose of dreaming. One prevalent theory is that dreams serve as a way for the brain to process emotions, memories, and experiences.

Nightmares, in particular, may help individuals cope with their fears and anxieties by allowing them to confront and process these emotions in a safe environment.

Dr. Barrett, a Harvard psychologist, even believes that nightmares have been beneficial to the human survival. He believes that they would have gone away with evolution otherwise. Barrett believes that “nightmares probably evolved to help make us anxious about potential dangers,” allowing us to turn our attention towards issues that need addressing for our wellbeing.

Unfortunately today, where ancient wild animal attacks and tribal fights are no longer a recurring theme, and when danger and trauma tend to only hit once… nightmares are no longer as useful as they used to be, and become a distressing event for the sleeper.

Nightmares and Sleep Quality

Nightmares can significantly impact sleep quality, leading to disrupted sleep patterns and sleep deprivation. The vivid and frightening nature of nightmares can cause individuals to wake up frequently during the night, leading to fragmented sleep and quickly turning into sleep deprivation. 

As a result, people may feel tired and irritable during the day, affecting their overall well-being and productivity. It is important to start finding appropriate treatments to halt frequent nightmares if they lead to lack of sleep and daytime fatigue and/or impairment. According to the National Library of Medicine, experiencing one, or more, nightmare per week is believed to create “clinically significant distress.”

The Relationship Between Stress and Nightmares

Stress is often linked to the occurrence of nightmares. When individuals are experiencing heightened stress or anxiety in their waking life, they are more likely to have nightmares during sleep. Understanding the relationship between stress and nightmares can help individuals manage their stress levels and potentially reduce the frequency of nightmares.

Common stressors leading to frequent nightmares include: post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and withdrawal from substances and certain drugs. A number of stressful psychological triggers can also lead to frequent nightmares, including anxiety and depression, sleep deprivation, or sleep apnea.

Should You Wake Someone Up from a Nightmare?

The decision to wake someone up from a nightmare depends on the individual and the situation. In most cases, it is not advisable to wake someone abruptly during a nightmare. Waking someone suddenly, especially during REM sleep, can lead to confusion, disorientation, and a continuation of the fearful emotions from the dream into wakefulness.

Instead, consider these alternative approaches when someone is having a nightmare:

1- Provide Comfort and Reassurance

If you notice someone experiencing a nightmare, gently try to comfort them without waking them up. You can softly speak reassuring words or gently stroke their arm to let them know you are there for support. Presence and light touch can help someone gently wake up from their nightmares, without feeling abruptly pulled out of it.

2- Create a Calm Environment

In some instances, creating a soothing atmosphere in the sleeping environment can help the person transition from the nightmare to a more peaceful dream or deeper sleep. Soft, calming music or white noise may aid in this process and can be made readily available to the sleeper experiencing nightmare. Some guided meditation tracks can also help bring the person out of the nightmare and go back to bed gently.

3- Wait for REM Sleep to End

REM sleep, the stage where nightmares occur, is a vital part of the sleep cycle. It is best to allow the person to naturally transition out of REM sleep into a different sleep stage before waking them up. Waking up during REM sleep leads to up to an hour of disorientation and unease, making it preferable to wake someone up in one of the non-REM sleep stages.

4- Encourage Dream Journaling

Keeping a dream journal can help individuals identify recurring themes in their nightmares and potentially uncover underlying concerns in their waking life that contribute to these dreams. IF you are near the sleeper as s/he wakes up from his/her nightmare, encourage journaling by keeping pen and paper handy, and asking the person to write notes down immediately upon waking up.

Coping Strategies for Dealing with Nightmares

For individuals who frequently experience nightmares, various coping strategies can be beneficial:

1- Relaxation Techniques

Practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help reduce stress and anxiety, making nightmares less likely to occur. Follow our 7 Tips to Fall Asleep Faster guide for more ways to create a sleep-inducing environment.

2- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is a structured therapeutic approach that can be effective in treating sleep disturbances, including insomnia and nightmares. The cognitive therapy guides sleepers through a series of changes to alter their sleep behavior and tackle their nightmares.

3- Sleep Hygiene

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants before bedtime can all contribute to better sleep quality and fewer nightmares. Try to stick to a regular sleep routine with a regular bed time and wake-up time, as well as relaxation techniques that work for you.

4- Seeking Professional Help

If nightmares persist and significantly impact daily life and your performance at work and/or at home, seeking guidance from a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist may be necessary.

Should You Wake Someone Up From A Nightmare

Nightmares are a common phenomenon that can affect adults’ sleep quality and overall well-being, taking a toll if experienced 1+ time per week. Whether you should wake someone up from a nightmare depends on the circumstances, but in most cases, gentle comfort and support are preferable and allow the sleeper to come out of it more gently. 
 
Understanding the relationship between stress and nightmares and implementing coping strategies can help manage nightmares effectively. By promoting better sleep hygiene and seeking professional help if needed, individuals can work towards a more peaceful and restful sleep, with fewer disruptions from nightmares.

References

FAQ

Most frequent questions and answers

Nightmares are intense and distressing dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. They serve as a way for the brain to process emotions, memories, and experiences, helping individuals cope with fears and anxieties in a safe environment.

Nightmares can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to frequent awakenings during the night and fragmented sleep. As a result, individuals may experience sleep deprivation, fatigue, and daytime irritability.

Abruptly waking someone up during a nightmare is generally not recommended. It can lead to confusion and disorientation, as well as carry the fearful emotions from the dream into wakefulness. Providing comfort and support without waking the person is a better approach.

You can offer comfort and reassurance by softly speaking calming words or gently touching them. Creating a calming sleep environment and waiting for the REM sleep stage to naturally end before providing support can be beneficial.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime, and limiting the consumption of caffeine or alcohol can all contribute to better sleep quality and reduce the likelihood of nightmares.

More Sleep Resources

What are nightmares, and why do we have them?

Nightmares are intense and distressing dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. They serve as a way for the brain to process emotions, memories, and experiences, helping individuals cope with fears and anxieties in a safe environment.

How do nightmares affect sleep quality?

Nightmares can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to frequent awakenings during the night and fragmented sleep. As a result, individuals may experience sleep deprivation, fatigue, and daytime irritability.

Should I wake someone up if they are having a nightmare?

Abruptly waking someone up during a nightmare is generally not recommended. It can lead to confusion and disorientation, as well as carry the fearful emotions from the dream into wakefulness. Providing comfort and support without waking the person is a better approach.

What can I do to help someone who is experiencing a nightmare?

You can offer comfort and reassurance by softly speaking calming words or gently touching them. Creating a calming sleep environment and waiting for the REM sleep stage to naturally end before providing support can be beneficial.

How can I promote better sleep hygiene to prevent nightmares?

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime, and limiting the consumption of caffeine or alcohol can all contribute to better sleep quality and reduce the likelihood of nightmares.

Share this deal with a friend!

Laura Georgieff
Laura Georgieff

Laura is a mother of three who did not sleep through the night for the first 5.5 years of her kids' lives. She is passionate about sleep quality and loves sharing her experience and knowledge of all thing bedding! It is her mission to help you make the best decisions when it comes to sleep and help you get the best deal on the market!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

current deal we love: NOLAH EVOLUTION - BEST MATTRESS 2023