A lot of people seek out lucid dreaming techniques that will help them to learn to stop having nightmares. Because every person is different, and because every person responds to meditation and lucid dreaming differently, there is no “one size fits all solution.” However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t really put a dent in it and get more control over it as long as you’re willing to put in a little work.

Within our framework, there two main approaches you can take to lower the frequency of nightmares, night terrors and bad dreams in general. In the following, we’re going to break each of these approaches down in the general sense. The idea here is to give you the overall framework to understand how all of this works and what you can feasibly do about it.

A man sits at the end of a pier over water meditating while looking at mountains in the distance.

The Two Approaches to Meditation for Nightmares

If you’re looking for some type of sleep meditation for nightmares, you may be surprised to find out that this can actually refer to two different things. Essentially, it comes down to whether you’re looking for something to do while you’re clearly awake or when you’re already in the dream.

We actually recommend both of the following approaches in combination with each other:

  1. Mindfulness Meditation (strategic approach) – Meditate while awake in an attempt to affect your dreams indirectly.
  2. Lucid Dreaming Work (tactical approach) – Catch and transform nightmares when they’re actually happening.

Both of these approaches are important, but they both work in different ways. You may prefer one approach to the other, and different people will obviously have different preferences as well as different degrees to which they want to stop nightmares from happening.

Our recommendation is to learn about both philosophical approaches so that you can figure out which will be right for you or if you even want to combine both at the same time.

How to Use Meditation to Stop Nightmares From Happening in the First Place

Learning how to stop bad dreams before they start is the more strategic and proactive approach. However, meditation and nightmares can be more tied together than a lot of people might initially think. The reason is that nightmares are frequently your unconscious mind’s way of trying to alert you to some type of problem or fear that you have. Alternatively, it can also be a part of the process of solving a problem that you’re afraid of facing head-on.

The whole idea behind using meditation for nightmares is to calm yourself down more in the general sense. Subsequently, the thought process is that this will cause you to have fewer bad dreams.

It’s well-known that mindfulness meditation and deep breathing help to fight off insomnia[1], and the idea here is to use a similar association to prevent the types of disturbances and instability that can cause bad dreams before they start.

A traditional stack of rocks sitting on a beach near sunset with the ocean in the background.

The easiest way to start working with this is with a basic sleep meditation approach that calms you down before you go to bed:

  1. Sit someplace comfortable where you won’t be interrupted or have to deal with sudden loud noises. Set a timer for a short amount of time. Five minutes is a good starting place if you’re new to the idea.
  2. Close your eyes, and take long, slow, deep breaths.
  3. You’ll notice that your mind starts to jump to different things, often trying to get you to get up, open your eyes and do something else. Ignore them, and let them just go away as you sit and be still.
  4. Continue doing this with your eyes closed until your timer goes off. Resist the temptation to open your eyes to see how much time you have left. Just focus on your breathing.
  5. Generally speaking, your exhales should be a little longer than your inhales. For example, if your inhale is about a count to 4 to 6, your exhales should be a count to about 7 to 10.

After you finish this, your brain will have calmed down quite a bit. However, the real power comes from doing this daily so that your brain learns how to do it faster and more efficiently.

Using Lucid Dreaming as a Form of Sleep Meditation for Nightmares in Progress

The approach noted up above for meditation to stop nightmares can help a lot. We don’t want to give the impression that it won’t. However, it’s usually a solution that can take some time to implement, and the progress is usually incremental over time.

If you’re looking for a more tactical approach to nightmare relief, a basic lucid dreaming practice can be helpful as well. In fact, using both of these together is probably more effective than their parts since people who meditate regularly tend to have an easier time with lucid dreaming.[2]

The idea is pretty straightforward:

  • One of the first skills you learn in our approach to lucid dreaming is how to tell if you’re in a dream to begin with. If you learn to do this in a nightmare, it can be helpful for obvious reasons.
  • You have a variety of options when learning how to stop nightmares with lucid dreaming. You can realize they aren’t real and ignore them, reform them as you see fit or even cause yourself to wake from them completely as an “emergency exit.”
  • The simple act of learning to take control and not feel like a victim to your own mind can lower your stress levels, which in turn can cause a feedback loop of your nightmares easing up on their own.

That’s not even counting the fact that you can actually stop and meditate within the dream itself to calm down your surroundings. While it’s a little bit more of an intermediate to advanced idea, it’s not something that has to take a whole lot of time to learn to do.

A small note, reading mindfulness, sits in front of a window when it is foggy outside.

How Meditation and Nightmares Can Affect Each Other

If you decide to try meditation to stop bad dreams, you’ll sometimes find that the nature of your nightmares change. A big part of that is that these dreams are often messages that you’re left trying to interpret. If you can get past the fact that they’re scary to begin with, you can meditate on the symbolism, what they mean and what your unconscious mind is trying to tell you.

Subsequently, you can find that this causes your nightmares to ease up since the message your mind was trying to give you has been received and processed.

Alternatively, you can also use a guided sleep meditation as you fall asleep in an attempt to directly impact your mental state as your dreams start actually forming. While there isn’t a lot of research on this approach in particular, a lot of people have reported that it helps. It’s one of those things where you would really just have to try it to see if it works for you since everyone is individually different.

Handling Situations of Getting Nightmares After Meditation

In some situations, you can end up with nightmares after meditation work that are a bit worse than how you started. Alternatively, meditation can sometimes cause bad dreams when you weren’t having any previously.

While this wouldn’t happen in a perfect world, it’s also not something that you should worry about so much. This is because it’s typically a temporary issue that is happening while your brain is trying to work out the rest of a solution to whatever problem you’ve been focusing on.

A great example of this is when someone suddenly starts having nightmares about spiders that come out of nowhere. This is actually almost universally a sign that your brain is trying to get you to take advantage of some opportunity. Once you get past the initial shock of the dream itself, you can dive into the symbolism and interpret it correctly to resolve the whole thing.

A woman with red hair lays on her back on dry, cracked ground with her hair in her face.

How Guided Sleep Meditation Approaches Can Make Nightmares Worse Initially

Another good example of this that happens sometimes is with guided approaches to sleep meditation. The first few times you try it especially, you can end up with some pretty atypical dreams that border on nightmares. However, the reasons for this are pretty straightforward.

  • Taking in any kind of new media as you’re falling asleep is often reported to produce atypical dreams.
  • These types of meditations can kickstart your brain into tackling problems that it has been otherwise ignoring, which can lead to certain types of temporary nightmares.
  • If these dreams persist, you can always stop the guided meditation for a week to see if they die down. If they do not, then the meditations may not have been the reason they were happening.

Our point here is that you shouldn’t necessarily stop your dream work just because you have a nightmare or two. Especially if you’re working in lucid dreaming exercises with these dreams, they can be a wonderful opportunity for you to get better at the task at hand.

Resources

  1. Corliss, J. (2020, June 15). Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep. Harvard Health. Retrieved January 11, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726
  2. Baird, B., Riedner, B. A., Boly, M., Davidson, R. J., & Tononi, G. (2019). Increased lucid dream frequency in long-term meditators but not following MBSR training. Psychology of consciousness (Washington, D.C.)6(1), 40–54. https://doi.org/10.1037/cns0000176

 

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