Is It Possible to Stop Bad Dreams?

Uncover why bad dreams occur, tips to reduce them, and more. Read now to take control of your sleep and ensure you get a good night’s rest.


Whether we're young or middle-aged, bad dreams are possible and can negatively affect our energy levels and sleep. Many people wonder if it is possible—at all—to stop horrible dreams from happening. With up to 8% of the adult population today experiencing nightmares regularly, it's essential to investigate to see if there is a way that we can eliminate the stress these nightmares can cause us.

In this article, we'll dive deep into whether or not it's possible to avoid bad dreams, even stop them, and how we can. We'll explore methods proven to prevent bad dreams so you can take control of your sleep one night at a time.

What Classifies as a Bad Dream?

If you have ever woken up in fright after feeling like you were falling or something dangerous was chasing you, you're not alone. In fact, these are among the most common bad dreams (Source: Frontiers in Psychology). Bad dreams can vary in their content from person to person, but certain topics are more prevalent than others among the population, like dreaming of being chased, falling, losing a loved one, or ending up in a distressing accident or situation.

Contrary to what you might believe, these dreams are not just random. They can be based on situations that we face in our lives and even poor digestion. One study confirmed that patients who have IBS tend to have more bad dreams and experience sleep disturbances as compared to others. Studies that were conducted during the pandemic demonstrated that even extreme stress can cause us to have these bad dreams. During lockdown, participants showed more prevalent instances of bad dreams, including pandemic-related images, being attacked, and feeling helpless (Source: PubMed).

Can We Stop Bad Dreams?

Unfortunately, despite how much we want to avoid sleep disturbances, we can’t program our minds to stop the bad dreams. Not only can we not stop them, but research shows that we need these dreams to help regulate our thoughts and cognition. Sigmund Freud was actually one of the first to suggest that bad dreams were purposeful for our emotional regulation, and other people have said that these dreams act like an “emotional thermostat” to help us process what we experience and feel.

Because our dreams function this way, according to Freud, we experience poor moods when we are unable to get enough sleep or find ourselves disturbed during the night. Dreams are also important for our memory, so we cannot stop our bad dreams because this may hinder our ability to remember what happened with clarity.

Other scholars have also said that our dreams prepare us for real-world problems in a way that other activities don’t. So, while we may have the odd dream of being chased by a giant animal, it can be unpleasant, but our brains need these dreams to process our emotions, how we see the world, and how we cope.

One example of how dreams prepare us for the real world is the pandemic. One study on over 1,000 participants highlighted that the heightened emotions of the pandemic led to greater instances of bad dreams, anxiety, and depression (Source: ScienceDirect). Imagine if we did not have any bad dreams during the pandemic. How would we have coped with our reality, and what sort of emotions would we have experienced during our waking hours?

Fortunately, even though we cannot stop bad dreams, there are ways to reduce their frequency. Let’s explore some of the best methods to help you limit your suffering from nightmares and sleep disturbances.

How to Reduce the Likelihood of Bad Dreams

There are several ways that we can reduce how often we have bad dreams, not only to ensure a better night’s rest but also to improve our quality of life. Here are some proven ways that others have reduced their likelihood of having bad dreams:

  • Brief Behavioral Treatment for Insomnia (BBTI): Brief behavioral treatment for insomnia, especially for those who lose more sleep due to nightmares, can be a great way to reduce one's instances of trauma-related bad dreams. Studies on veterans showed that they enjoyed a greater quality of sleep over time as a result of BBTI (Source: PubMed).
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: As we discussed, gut health plays a vital role in overall sleep health. The more you focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle—eating the right foods, getting exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight—the more likely you will reduce your bad dreams.
  • Engage in Self-Care and Stress Management: Stress is so heavily connected to sleep health and bad dreams that setting aside time for yourself is essential. Whether you get creative, meditate, or set aside time to do a self-care practice you enjoy, you will contribute to healthier habits and fewer bad dreams.
  • Seek Help from a Specialist: If you still find yourself struggling with bad dreams even after some long-term lifestyle changes, you can seek help from a sleep specialist or a psychologist. In some cases, you may be prescribed a medication that can help, or you may talk to a therapist to uncover why you may be having these nightmares.

Take Control of Your Sleep for a Good Night’s Rest

If you struggle with bad dreams, you’re not alone, and there’s plenty that you can do to try and limit your sleep disturbances. It’s a shame that we can’t completely eliminate them, but we can take steps to support our sleep health. From eating a healthy diet to ensuring that you engage in self-care to relieve stress, there’s no shortage of options to ensure that you finally get that much-needed rest at night.


Written by

Marie Soukup

Marie Soukup is a seasoned copywriter, editor, and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with a certificate from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN). With years of experience working with brands across diverse industries, Marie is passionate about holistic health and crafting compelling content.

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