Reduce stress and anxiety
Other than the routine before bed, finding ways to reduce overall stress and relax during the day can help improve sleep at night. Anxiety and stress can make us more susceptible to having nightmares. Using strategies to reduce stress and anxiety in day-to-day activities can go a long way in improving sleep quality and reducing the frequency of nightmares. Existing mental health conditions may create further negative influences on sleep quality and the frequency of nightmares.
Manage distress upon waking from a nightmare
Often the disruption from waking in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep can be frustrating, and one of the key reasons someone might seek help with recurrent nightmares. Particularly since when we wake or become aware of a nightmare, we often experience stress, anxiety and related symptoms (e.g. increased heart rate, sweating upon waking). We may not always recall the content of our nightmares, but thankfully we can focus on calming down, and relaxing ourselves in an attempt to return to sleep after waking from one. An effective way to try and get back to sleep upon waking from a nightmare is to use progressive muscle relaxation. A helpful guide to walk through progressive muscle relaxation has been created by the Centre of Clinical Interventions here.
Seek professional support
If problems with nightmares persist, it may be worth seeking professional assistance. One technique that clinical psychologists use to address recurrent nightmares is called imagery rescripting or image rehearsal therapy. Imagery rescripting has shown promising results as an approach used to help desensitise and habituate to unpleasant imagery, and reduce the frequency of nightmares. The process of imagery rescripting often involves recounting the unpleasant situation or nightmare, and reframing the imagery and situation into something more positive and less distressing. This may involve imagining the situation changing to something different and often less distressing, having help from your future self, or rethinking the situation completely. The type of imagery rescripting or imagery rehearsal considered varies from person-to-person based on an assessment of what could be causing their nightmares.
As such, it is important to consider each individual and their circumstances, and investigate potential medical or personal factors that may be contributing to the experience of nightmares. These may include experiencing previous trauma, a change in medications, an underlying or related medical condition (e.g. sleep apnoea), or any number of other factors that may be unique to you that could be contributing to recurrent nightmares. If you are struggling with ongoing nightmares, it may be worth having a conversation with a clinical psychologist or sleep physician to address your concerns.