How to Go Back to Sleep After a Nightmare

by | June 4, 2019

We all hate having nightmares, and as a person who’s struggled with severe anxiety for years, I most definitely know where you’re coming from.

I still have nightmares when I’m stressed out about something, but there are a few things that truly help me overcome my anxiety and go back to sleep after a nightmare.

Here are some DOS and DONTS on how to go back to sleep after waking up. If you want to listen to the audio version of this blog post, click here:

1. Don’t Look at Your Phone

This is a no-brainer, but I know how tempting it can be to look at your phone immediately after waking up in the middle of the night.

No matter if it’s just to check the time, trust me, you will regret it. Your phone will instantly flood your mind with even more distractions, and it will get much harder to go back to sleep after staring at a source of blue light.

2. Soothe Yourself

Take a few deep breaths and say to yourself that you’re safe, everything is okay, and this was just a bad dream. You don’t have to say it out loud, you just need to distract your brain from thinking about the nightmare, and focus on the present moment instead.

Reality is that after waking up in the middle of the night from a bad dream, it is hard to shake off the adrenaline from your body, so here comes my second DONT:

3. Don’t Try to Suppress Your Feelings

If you’ve had a nightmare, it means that your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Your dreams work in a symbolic way: they show you what you’re trying to suppress during the day and help you make it more conscious and integrate it into your life.

What I’m advising you not to do in this situation is to suppress your feelings. If you feel sad, let yourself cry. If you’re anxious, try not to resist the unpleasant sensations in your body, and try the SECOND DO:

4. Take Five Deep Breaths and Do a Full Body Scan

Here’s how it works. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Feel your belly expand as it fills with air; and your muscles relax, as your breathing becomes deeper and deeper.

Now, do a full body scan by focusing your attention on every part of your body, starting with your toes, your legs, your belly, and so on. When you reach the top of your head, make sure to relax your face muscles, and completely let go of control.

By that time there’s a good chance you’ve already fallen asleep, but if you still haven’t, that’s okay. You don’t even have to go back to sleep right away. Here’s what NOT to do if you decide to get up:

5. Don’t Turn on the Lights

Use a flashlight or the light from your phone to navigate. You may want to go to the bathroom, maybe drink some water, or fix yourself a quick sandwich, but if you turn on the lights, there’s a good chance your body will take that as a signal that your day has begun and it’s time for you to fully wake you.

The nightmare has given you enough adrenaline rush; we don’t want to make your anxiety even worse. What you can DO instead:

6. Engage in Some Quiet Activity

The goal here is to help you relax and put you back into sleep mode. For instance, curl up on the sofa, grab a book that you like and read a few pages. You’ll quickly get sleepy again and ready to go back to bed.

7. Don’t Take It Too Seriously

Not every nightmare can be overlooked or forgotten in a matter of minutes. If you’ve woken up and you can’t go to sleep, maybe you don’t have to. Our bodies are much more resilient than we think, so trust yourself that you’re going to be okay even if you didn’t sleep well last night.

If you’re having recurring nightmares for an extended period, though, this may be a sign of a bigger problem going on, and I advise you to seek the professional help of a therapist or a coach to help you through it.

And one more thing before you go: let me know in the comments below what do you do to go back to sleep after a nightmare? I’d love to know your thoughts.


If you've woken up in the middle of the night and you don't know what to do, here are 3 tips on how to go back to sleep after a nightmare.

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