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How to Go Back to Sleep After a Nightmare

 How to Go Back to Sleep After a Nightmare

When you lurch forward, breathing heavily after a nightmare, it can seem impossible to fall back asleep. Frequent nightmares can start to cut into your deep sleep time, leaving you exhausted for the next day. And when you’re not being chased by giant spiders, you’re lying awake just wanting to get back to bed.

Thankfully, there are ways to help ease back into a gentle slumber — even after a bad dream. We’ve put together some tips for better sleep and effective ways for how to go back to sleep after a nightmare, helping you say goodbye to those dream demons and hello to a peaceful night’s rest.

#1 Ignore the Clock

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night only to immediately check your phone or bedside clock to see what time it is? This bad habit can often lead to bad sleep cycles and an inability to fall back asleep. When you look at the time, you might find yourself counting the minutes until you have to walk up again or putting together the next day’s schedule in your head.

Instead of looking at the clock and worrying about the day to come (or the terrors you’ve just experienced), try avoiding checking the time altogether. You can also set an alarm clock or invest in a sunrise alarm clock that gently wakes you up with light as a sun would. 

Let your alarm do all the hard work so you can focus on what’s most important: getting back to sleep for a good night’s rest.

#2 Practice Meditative Breathing Techniques

Sometimes our adult nightmares know how to work us up, tapping into our fears or stressors. And when you wake up, and your heart is racing, it can be difficult to tell your body that it’s time to get back to bed. To help, you can practice breathing techniques, which can help slow your breathing and your heart rate through mindfulness.

Breathwork is frequently used in yoga, and many breathing techniques are derived from traditional yoga practices. When you practice breathwork, you’re actually tapping into your body’s natural fight-or-flight response. When you experience adult nightmares, your body releases the correlative stress hormones, which can prevent you from falling asleep.

Here’s a quick rundown of how to practice the popular 4-7-8 breathing technique to help calm you down after a nightmare:

  • Let yourself return to a comfortable position in bed, focusing all your attention on clearing your mind and your breathing.
  • Inhale deeply for 4 seconds, letting the air fill your lungs and stomach. 
  • Hold this breath for another 7 seconds, counting in your head.
  • Lastly, release the breath slowly for 8 counts. As you exhale, imagine letting the nightmare out of your body until the last bit of air leaves your lungs.
  • Repeat as needed until you feel relaxed enough to fall back asleep.

Doing yoga for sleep and relaxation can also help in addition to breathwork.

#3 Don’t Turn the Lights Back On

After a scary dream, you might have the urge to flip the lights back on to fend off any goblins or ghouls. Even as you get older the fear of the dark doesn’t necessarily leave — especially right after a nightmare. But resisting that urge to turn the lights back on after you’ve woken up can help you return back to bed faster.

Lights can actually have a reverse effect on your body's natural processes. When you expose yourself to bright light at night, your body can be tricked into thinking it’s the day, slowing the production of your melatonin and disrupting your circadian rhythm. This disruption may prevent you from returning to rest.

Lights that disrupt your deep sleep also include phones. Consider leaving your phone on the bedside table and turning it off an hour before bed to help you enter a night of deeper sleep, avoid bad dreams and return to sleep should they occur.

#4 Grab a Glass Of Water

If you’re recently waking up from a nightmare and feel parched, then it might be time to grab a late-night glass of water. Evidence shows that dehydration during the night can actually have an impact on your sleep, making you less likely to fall into deeper sleep cycles.

Similarly, drinking too much water before bed can have a similar effect, forcing you to get up in the middle of the night repeatedly to go to the bathroom. Finding a healthy balance of hydration can be a key part of falling back asleep after a recurrent nightmare and preventing it altogether.

Before you go to bed, try keeping a glass of water nearby. If you wake up from a recurrent nightmare you’ll be able to sip on some of the water and rehydrate yourself before you go back to sleep. This can help you leave the nightmare behind and reattune your brain to sleep.

To help stay hydrated before and after you sleep, here are some tips:

  • Take a water bottle with you throughout the day and stay hydrated.
  • Keep track of your hydration habits with a water drinking app — you can even find some with rewards or goals each day.
  • Set a reminder on your phone to alert you when it’s time to drink water, especially a few hours before bed, so you are hydrated during the night.

#5 Get Up and Do a Light Activity

Sometimes even when you try getting back to sleep, it can seem impossible. Sleep experts say that getting up and doing a light activity can actually help you feel tired again to get back to bed. If you decide to turn the lights back on, maybe invest in a red light that won’t mess with your sleep rhythm.

After you wake from a nightmare, find an easy activity to do for around 20 minutes — preferably something that doesn’t require screens like your phone or laptop. To help you get started here are couple of light activities you can do:

  • Grab a journal – Journaling is a great and simple activity to do after a nightmare. When you write down the nightmare, you can help recontextualize the dream and feel safer when it’s time to go back to bed.
  • Do some stretches – If you feel the need to get up, try stretching near your bed. You can focus on the areas of the neck and posture stretches to help you feel more relaxed, preparing yourself for a deeper night’s rest. Doing yoga poses for stress relief can also help.
  • Walk around the house – Pacing can actually help alleviate some of the stress following a bad dream. Walking helps give your fight-or-flight response an outlet and centers your mind and body to get you ready to fall back asleep.

Ways to Prevent Nightmares Altogether

Sometimes it’s not enough to handle nightmares after they happen. If you want to stop nightmares at the source, then it’s worth looking into your habits to determine how you might be causing nightmares to happen more often than usual.

Nightmares are often ways for the body to make sense of the day’s stressors, reacting to what we consumed or experienced the day before. And there are a variety of habits that can actually be contributing to your nightmares.

We’ve put together a list of nightmare-inducing activities you should avoid altogether:

  • Skip the bedtime snacks – When you eat before bed, the food in your gut can actually kickstart your metabolism that is supposed to be winding down. This makes your brain more active, which can then cause you to have more nightmares during the night.
  • Stay away from scary movies – If you’re someone with an overactive imagination, then you might not be doing yourself any favors by watching that scary movie before bed. Nightmares are a reflection of our stresses during the day, and an upsetting movie can set you up for troubling dreams at night.
  • Start relaxing – Relaxation is actually a great way to fight nightmares. When your brain is in a deeper form of REM sleep, you’re less likely to have nightmares and wake up in the night. Try one of the breathing techniques we’ve mentioned above before going to bed or invest in some CBD oils for sleep.

Find Nighttime Relaxation With Zebra CBD

Nightmares are caused by an overactive mind in the night. To help you find restful sleep after a disturbing nightmare, consider trying CBD products that help provide relaxation during your day and night. Our Zebra CBD products provide premium CBD for your health and vitality.

For nighttime relaxation, try our CBD and CBN for sleep gummies with melatonin. Or try our CBD tablets for sleep, with premium CBD oil to help you find late-night peace of mind.


Our Sleep Guide. How To Go Back To Sleep After a Nightmare.

Healthline. 10 Tips to Fall Back Asleep After Waking Up at Night.

Sleep Foundation. Hydration and Sleep.

CNN. 10 ways to conquer adult nightmares and get better sleep.

Co-founder of Copycat Copywriters, Adam has written for dozens of CBD and cannabis companies on a wide array of topics, including regulations, economics, farming practices and biochemistry.

About the Author

Adam Biederman Image

Adam Biederman

As co-founder and lead writer of Copycat Copywriters, one of Adam’s primary areas of expertise is within the budding CBD and cannabis space. He has written for dozens of CBD and cannabis companies, producing a collection of white papers, press releases, blog posts, articles and ebooks about a wide array of industry-related subjects, including regulations, economics, farming practices and biochemistry.

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