Step 1: You will need
- Duvet or sheet
- Readiness for sleep - whatever it may bring…
Step 2: Getting your brain ready for sleep
Dreams and nightmares are related to one's mental state in waking hours, so going to bed in a panicked or fearful state is a bad idea.
To get yourself in a good mood for dreaming, spend between thirty minutes and an hour winding down before going to bed. Reading a book, or listening to some relaxing music can help - although choose your material carefully; this isn't the time for Stephen King or Cannibal Corpse.
Similarly, if you are busy and stressed in the day, this anxiety can spill over into your dream life. Make a list of things you're worrying about before you go to sleep - writing them down takes them out of your head and onto the paper. You can also use this as a "to do" list in the morning!
Step 3: Getting your body ready for sleep
The urban myth about cheese causing bad sleep has been disproved by the British Cheese Board, with cheese before bedtime causing no problems for 72% of a test group. In fact, eating a small amount before sleeping can help you relax; however caffeine and tobacco before bed can disrupt sleep patterns, making relaxing much more tricky.
Similarly, an alcoholic nightcap may help you to get to sleep, but excessive alcohol interrupts sleep throughout the night.
Try hot milk or Horlicks, though not too much - a full bladder can cause broken sleep.
Major exercise less than two hours before going to bed is extremely unhelpful, but some light stretching, meditation, or a warm bath can really help you to relax.
Step 4: Be in control
A good way to tame the terror of your dreaming is to find ways to be in control. "Dream catchers" originated in the Native American culture of the Ojibwa tribe; bad dreams were said to be caught on the net as they passed through it.
Psychologically, a dream catcher provides an opportunity for you to focus your internal cerebral state on an external object - this placebo effect is particularly good for easing the bad dreams of children.
During a bad dream, a good way of defusing its power is to recognise that you are dreaming, and that you are in no danger. Lucid dreaming is the conscious awareness that you are dreaming, with some skilled lucid dreamers gaining the ability to directly control their dreams.
Start a dream diary. Learn to recognise similar themes and images in your dreams and use these as reminders when dreaming to break the reality of your nightmare.
Step 5: Solving any big problems
Serious or persistent bad dreams are likely to be related to a specific problem or a past trauma. An understanding of what this is, and investigation of it, will help to ease these nightmares.
Counseling has helped many individuals to explore their mental and emotional states, and exploration of what is worrying you with a trained professional will help you get to the bottom of your anxiety.
Congratulations! You're now free to enjoy sweet dreams each and every bedtime. Night, night!