Healthy Sleeping Habits

6 Tips To Help Ensure You Have Good Dreams, According to Sleep Experts

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Sleep is a crucial component of living a well life. When people get the necessary amount and quality of shut eye, they’re more alert throughout the day, in a better mood overall, and more likely to make healthy nutrition choices, to name just a few of many benefits. Another thing that sleep does for humans is that it allows for dreams, and dreams can be a powerful way to interact with one’s subconscious, providing insight for how to handle certain situations that arise during our waking hours. But, as anyone who's woken up in a cold sweat after a COVID nightmare knows to be true, not all nighttime dreams are created equally. The good news is, sleep experts have tips to help you learn how to have good dreams.

According to Lauri Loewenberg, dream analyst and author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life, there are ways to control your dreams that allow you to revisit a particularly blissful one. However, this isn’t the only way to ensure you have good dreams. Much of what people do during their waking hours has an impact on the types of dreams they have, meaning there are specific ways you can work to avoid experiencing nightmares. And since nightmares stand to compromise your sleep quality, it's all the more important to learn how to have good dreams.

“Nightmares and traumatic dreams have a tendency to linger in our memories because, by definition, you wake up from a nightmare and your brain has not finished processing that data—meaning it’s kind of stuck in the front of your brain,” says sleep doctor Michael J. Breus, PhD, chief sleep advisor at mattress company Purple. “Depending on the content of the dream,” he adds, “it could easily have a disruptive effect.”

For exactly this reason, it's important to follow practices that lead to having good dreams so that we can feel like our best selves when we’re not deep in our slumber (instead of waking up in a nightmare-addled frenzy).

Keep reading to learn six answers to the “how to have good dreams” question, straight from the pros.

Not sure how to have good dreams? These 6 tips from sleep experts should help.

1. Be mindful of the content you consume before bed

Dr. Breus suggests not interacting with any negative content 90 minutes before you hit the hay. That’s because he says your brain needs about that much time to process information that won’t exactly boost your mood (read: it’ll do the opposite). “If you are watching disturbing content before bed, you will probably dream about the disturbing content,” he says.

“If you are watching disturbing content before bed, you will probably dream about the disturbing content.” —Michael J. Breus, PhD, sleep doctor

According to Loewenberg, this might happen because “we tend to dream about what’s on our mind the most,” and oftentimes what’s on our mind the most is what we were thinking about right before bed.

2. Stop drinking alcohol at least 3 hours before bed

“Drinking can actually repress your dreams,” says Loewenberg. “You'll still dream, but you're going to spend a lot less time in REM sleep when you go to bed drunk,” she adds.

Dr. Breus agrees, adding that there's a “big difference between going to sleep and passing out” with respect to sleep quality and the ability to have good dreams. “Alcohol will increase the likelihood of more disruptive dreams, [and] actually multiple awakenings, and it will also disrupt REM sleep," he says.

To help ensure your evening drinks don't get in the way of good dreams, Dr. Breus suggests you drink a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume.

3. Record your dreams

Because writing in a dream journal can actually help you be better equipped to decipher what your dreams may be trying to tell you, psychotherapist Annie Armstrong Miyao, whose work has focused on dream work, recommends people pick up the habit as a strategy for how to have good dreams. “Look at your dreams to better understand them: Choose a few symbols and list your associations, connect to the emotion of the dream, [and] note the big themes,” says Miyao. “Do you connect with them? Do they relate to anything you have going on in your life?”

When you keep a dream journal over time, you can start identifying patterns in your dreams. From there, you can provide answers for yourself in terms of how to have good dreams, by way of noticing what led to positive dreams from the outset.

4. Don’t consume caffeine after noon

While Dr. Breus says the hard stop for caffeine consumption is 2 p.m. (because it can contribute to trouble sleeping past that point), he also notes that it’s better not to drink caffeine at all after midday.

“Caffeine will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, so [it may lead to] less REM, which is where you mostly dream,” says Dr. Breus. Of course, some people need a midday boost in terms of energy—and there’s nothing wrong with that. If that sounds like you, consider eating foods that boost your energy levels instead of going for another cup of joe.

5. Try not to eat before bed

”A good rule is to avoid eating at all within two hours of bedtime,” says Loewenberg. “If you…eat something that's very heavy, very rich, very sugary, it’s likely to cause bad dreams,” she adds. So reaching for a doughnut, cupcake, or cookie is definitely not an answer to the "how to have good dreams" question.

If you’re hungry, though, even if it’s getting really close to bedtime, you shouldn’t deprive yourself or your body of nourishment. Instead of grabbing something more sugary, Loewenberg suggests you eat for veggies, a salad, or a sandwich so that your digestive system has enough time to do its magic instead of keeping you from your slumber.

6. Avoid emotionally charged conversations

If having a tough talk before bed may lead to you fall asleep angry, the quality of sleep you get may be compromised, whether because you're irritated about the conversation itself or the fact that it's stopping you from getting quality sleep.

If you do end up having a hard conversation right before you try to catch zzz's, Miyao suggests that you do a bit of introspection. “Be honest with yourself and allow space to look at your emotions and heart’s desires,” she says. “Ignored emotions, needs, and desires often show up in dreams.” (And they’re not always pretty.)

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