How to Get Back to Sleep After a Nightmare

It’s 3 a.m. You’ve just escaped the clutches of kidnappers. Remind yourself it was only a dream, then follow our doctors’ suggestions. 

Woman sleeping

Photo by Panichgul Studios Inc/Kritsada Panichgul

Photo by Panichgul Studios Inc/Kritsada Panichgul

Breathe easy
Inhale as you count to four, hold it for a count of six and exhale to a count of seven, suggests Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Power of When. Repeat for a minute or so to lower your heart rate and induce relaxation.

Related: How to Have Happier Dreams and Get a Good Night's Sleep

Distract yourself 
Visualize doing a favorite activity step by step, like playing a round of golf or baking a loaf of your special pumpkin bread. “Rarely will you get past the fourth hole or put the bread in the oven,” says Winter.

Shuffle your thoughts
As you drift off, your train of thought naturally goes off the tracks. Winter says you can mimic this process to derail your worries. Think of something random that starts with the letter A (like an apple) and visualize it for a few seconds. Move on to an unconnected B (boat), C (cat)... It’s unlikely you’ll get to Zzzzzzzzzz. 

Get up 
If your mind is revving, leave your bed and read for 5 or 10 minutes. Skip How to Get Along with Difficult People or Preventing World War III. Breus suggests light fiction instead of nonfiction, which may stir up daytime concerns. Use a small book light rather than a glaring overhead one. And as soon as those eyelids droop, get back under the covers.