How to Control Your Dreams

Here are some steps to dealing with sleep-disturbing nightmares.

Cold blue chills run down your body. An electric charge snakes across your skin. Your pupils dilate. Your muscles tighten. You look into the darkness ahead and…and the next morning you have absolutely no idea what happened next. All you can remember is the sickening wash of fear as your mind was hijacked and held hostage by a nightmare.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Believe it or not, it’s not just our kids who have nightmares. Nearly 70 percent of adults do as well — with an amazing 30 percent of us reporting that these terrifying dreams jerk us out of sleep as often as once a month.

Nightmares are a sign of overload. Check with a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist if you’re depressed, if they recur, or if you discover that your dreams are caused by distressing feelings from the past that have been triggered by current events. Otherwise, here’s how Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D., director of the sleep disorder service at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago and suggests you keep them at bay:

Recognize that the dream is bad while you’re having it.

This may sound impossible to do, but it’s not. Simply resolve that you’re going to do this before you fall asleep. It may take a few tries, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Identify what in the dream makes you feel bad.

What are the feelings or events involved?

Stop any bad dream.

Believe it or not, you can do it — often simply by recognizing that it’s bad.

Change the ending.

Turn what’s negative into something positive. You may have to wake up to do it, but eventually you’ll be able to tell yourself to write a better ending as you sleep.

Keep a dream diary.

Write down your dreams every morning. All your dreams, not just the nightmares. Then periodically review the ones that trouble you. Try to figure out why they’re upsetting.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest