The Neuroscience of Nightmares + How to Use the Neurocycle to Have Better Dreams
In this podcast (episode #318) and blog, I am going to talk about dreams and nightmares: what they are and how to manage them using self-regulation and the Neurocycle.
When we sleep, our nonconscious mind goes into housekeeping mode. This means that it sorts out the thoughts we have built from our experiences during the day.
The conscious mind, which works with the nonconscious mind when we are awake, shuts off when we go to sleep. This frees the nonconscious mind to do the work of restoring, cleaning and preparing for the next day.
Our brain functionality also changes at night. All these changes, in turn, result in a lot of cleansing and organizing of brain energy and neurochemical activity as we go through the stages of sleep, which we can experience as dreams and/or nightmares.
Of course, both dreams and nightmares can be confusing. Dreams, however, are not disturbing, whereas nightmares can range from bad to terrifying.
Nightmares can come from suppressed and unresolved toxic thoughts and traumas. This means that they can be warning signals, telling us we have “stuff” we need to deal with in our mind, brain and body. The more complex and established the trauma, the more lodged the nightmares can become in our minds, brains and bodies, and the more physical the nightmares can feel. Sometimes, these nightmares become night terrors, where you almost feel as though you are awake, but frozen in place and cannot move.
One of the best ways to manage nightmares is to focus on managing your thoughts when you are awake as a form of sleep preparation. To this end, I recommend making deliberate and intentional mind management a lifestyle. I do this using my Neurocycle mind-management technique, which I discuss in detail in my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle.
The Neurocycle is a way to harness your thinking power through mind-management that I have developed and researched over the past three decades; any task that requires thinking can use it, which means everything can, because you’re always thinking! This de-stressing, self-regulation technique can really work with any issue, and can be done anywhere, any place and at any time—all you need is you!
First, calm the brain down by breathing deeply. I recommend breathing in for 5 counts and out for 11 counts, and repeating this technique 3 times (for around 45 seconds).
Then, GATHER awareness of the emotional and physical warning signals your body is sending you, such as tension in your shoulders, which can be a sign of fear of sleep. Embrace these signals, don’t judge them or try to suppress them. (Spend around 30 to 45 seconds doing this.)
Now, REFLECT on how you feel: ask, answer and discuss why you are feeling the way you do. Use specific sentences, like “I feel this anxiety because ...”. What is happening during the day that may be affecting how you sleep? Do this for around 1-3 minutes.
After reflecting, WRITE down what you feel and why. This will help you gain clarity into your thinking and behavior.
Then, RECHECK what you have written, looking for your triggers and the thought patterns you may have developed that are affecting how you sleep. For example, you may notice that you start stressing before bed because of something going on in your life, which puts you in a heightened state of anxiety and increases your likelihood of having nightmares. What is your “antidote”? How will you reconceptualize this way of thinking and acting?
Lastly, take action. I call this step the ACTIVE REACH. This can be a positive statement that validates your feelings, or an action, such as having more “thinker moments” in your day, where you switch off to the external and onto the internal and just let your mind wander and daydream for around a minute. These thinker moments help calm down anxious thinking and reboot your mind.
For more on managing nightmares, listen to my podcast (episode #318), and check out my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:00 What are nightmares & dreams?
2:20, 4:00 What happens in the mind & brain when you sleep
3:20 Traumas & toxic thoughts can impact how you sleep
4:10, 9:00 What is the brain’s housekeeping mode & why is it important?
8:10 What is going on in the nonconscious mind when you are asleep
10:00 The difference between dreams & nightmares
12:00, 21:30 How mind-management can improve our sleep health & help us manage nightmares
18:45 The difference between nightmares & night terrors
29:20 How to help your child when they have nightmares
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.