How To Prevent Nightmares As You Age

While most often occurring in children below the age of 10 (via Mayo Clinic), nightmares can be a terrifying experience for anyone of any age. Research published in the scientific journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine describes nightmares as vividly frightening dreams that can jar one out of sleep. Interestingly, science also shows us that nightmares can continue to plague us, perhaps even more frequently, as we get older (via Mindbodygreen).

Issuing self-reported surveys to nearly 3,000 older adults, researchers conducting a 2021 study determined that 2.7% of adults over the age of 50 were affected by nightmares. For those over the age of 70, this percentage climbed to 6.3%.

What might already seem like high numbers appear to get even higher in older adults with mental health disorders, according to the aforementioned research published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine. According to the researchers, 11.4% of older adults who experienced symptoms of depression and just over 17% of older adults who had symptoms of anxiety, also experienced nightmares.

Experts say there are things we can do to help prevent nightmares in the years to come.

Try these practices before bed

Member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's board of directors, Jennifer Martin, tells CNN, "One of the most effective ways to treat nightmare problems in adults is actually to get them sleeping more soundly (so) they wake up less often."

This means creating a consistent sleep routine that actively promotes relaxation. Not only does this mean sticking to a designated bedtime, but it also means catering your environment to optimal sleep, such as through temperature settings. Sleep expert Dr. Ellen Vora explains via Mindbodygreen, "The optimal temperature for sleep is considered 65 degrees Fahrenheit."

In addition to practicing good overall sleep hygiene, adults can also implement sleep habits specific to nightmare prevention. For example, refrain from watching scary movies or consuming any disturbing news before bed, as such content can promote nightmares (via CNN).

Rather, consider utilizing that time to journal instead. Unloading our stress or fears before bed can help ensure they're left on the page rather than left bouncing around in our minds as our head hits the pillow. Similarly, in the event of a recurring nightmare, journaling an alternate ending to the dream can help redirect the dream come nighttime.

Lastly, nightmares can sometimes be associated with the use of certain medications, notes CNN. Because many older adults take prescription medications, consider speaking with your physician if you notice nightmares occurring in conjunction with new prescriptions or changed dosages.