Nightmares can be terrifying, exhausting, and distressing. They can also be vivid and realistic, often seeming more like a waking experience than a dream. Nightmares can cause a great deal of anxiety and depression and, in some cases, may even be related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

They may also be caused by medications. If you are experiencing frequent nightmares, it is important to check with your GP to rule out any underlying causes. There are many ways to treat nightmares; some people find that good sleep hygiene helps, while others may need therapy in order to correct the imagery causing the nightmares.

waking from a nightmare

What can cause nightmares?

They can be caused by a variety of things, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Have you started a new medication recently? They can sometimes be caused by some medicines. If you’ve started a new medication and are having them, it’s best to check with your GP to see if the Nightmares are a side effect.

It’s also possible that they are related to sleep apnoea or restless legs syndrome. If you think this may be the case, it’s important once again to talk to your GP. Sleep apnoea is a medical condition that means you are not breathing properly when you sleep, and restless legs syndrome is a condition that causes an urge to move your legs. Both of these can be treated, so it’s crucial to get a diagnosis from your GP if you think either of these may be the cause of your nightmares.

There are some lifestyle choices that can make Nightmares worse. These include alcohol use, nicotine from smoking and drug use and even caffeine. So if you’re someone who suffers from nightmares, it might be worth trying to cut down on these substances to see if it makes a difference.

Some people believe eating cheese before bed gives them realistic or scary dreams. While there’s no scientific evidence suggesting that cheese causes nightmares, some people believe certain foods can trigger nightmares. These include:


  • Spicy foods
  • Processed meats
  • Rich or sugary foods

If you notice a correlation between consuming certain foods and nightmares then try cutting those foods out before bedtime to see if this brings the relief you need from scary dreams. 


foods that cause bad dreams

How can I stop having nightmares?

They can be extremely distressing and can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. If you’re struggling with nightmares, there are some things you can do that may help. These include:

  • Speak to your GP to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
  • Try keeping a dream diary to see if there is a correlation between food, activities of the day or medication to help you find the cause.
  • Avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine before bed can help.
  • If you think certain foods are triggering them, it’s worth trying to avoid them before bed.
  • Having good sleep hygiene is also essential. This means making sure your bedroom is only for sleep and sex.
better dreams

Can therapy help with nightmares?

First, it is important to understand their cause. The first step should be for your GP to rule out anything medical. Keeping the sleep diary mentioned earlier will help you understand if food or daily stress is a trigger. It may also identify anxiety or trauma as the trigger. If your nightmares are a result of trauma, therapy can help you work through those feelings.


If anxiety, PTSD, depression or trauma are the root cause, then therapy can be very effective in helping you get a good night’s sleep again. Nightmares can be treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Nightmares (CBT-N). This therapy is designed to help you change the way you think about your nightmares and teaches you how to control your dreams.

They are often recurrent; it is important to find the root cause and address it. With the proper treatment, you can get rid of them for good.

My top tip…

If you have a nightmare, try to correct the imagery afterwards. This means changing the outcome of the dream to something more positive or supportive. You do this when you have woken up from the dream and are in a relaxed state. It can be helpful to write down the details of your nightmare too.

Nightmares can profoundly affect our lives, making us feel exhausted, anxious, and depressed. If you are struggling to cope, please seek help from your GP. If the cause is trauma or anxieties Charles can help. Book a free 15-minute chat with Charles via the button below.


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