Constantly having nightmares can be very stressful on mental health. It disrupts your sleep; your mind doesn’t get the rest it needs and you could wake up feeling down, tired or sleep-deprived, which in turn affects your day-to-day activity. But why do these unhelpful dreams sneak their way into your head and are they a sign that something bigger is going on in your life? It can be particularly difficult to deal with a barrage of nightmares if you aren’t aware of any mental health issues that you’re suffering, because you might not have tools to deal with these issues. We find out what having consistent nightmares can be an indication of and how to manage them (so that you can finally get a good night’s rest). What causes nightmares? Nightmares usually occur during REM sleep – similar to dreams – and although they can be a sign of an underlying issue, they’re not always this complex. According to WebMD, having a snack late at night can trigger nightmares as it boosts your metabolism and tells your brain to ‘be more active’. Taking medication or coming off medication can also stimulate nightmares, as can alcohol withdrawal. You get less REM sleep when you drink, and although it may seem tempting to have a nightcap, reduced REM sleep also means your mind’s ability to process dreams is impaired – so you might not be able to deal with what you’re dreaming about. Interestingly, sleep-deprivation in itself can also lead to nightmares, meaning you’re effectively stuck in a loop of bad sleep. A study from 2016, which measured the role of insomnia, nightmares and chronotype (essentially your biological clock) in relation to mental illness revealed that 8% to 18% of the population is ‘dissatisfied’ with their quality of sleep, and between 6% to 10% suffer with some form of insomnia disorder. The same study showed that a disruption in sleep patterns ‘commonly presents prior to acute psychiatric difficulties’, such as a manic episode, paranoia or ‘transition to major depression’. (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk) Lola, 21, is currently going through a phase of sleep disruption – she’s only sleeping a few hours per night and when she does, her sleep frequently consists of nightmares. ‘After every night’s sleep, I wake up and remember the wholly vivid nightmares I’ve just had’, she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘They vary from being a mash-up of several short intertwined dreams about people, some good that I don’t want to wake up from, but mostly horrible ones. ‘Sometimes they involve people from my life, sometimes faceless figures, which makes it even more creepy. Mostly I will wake up intermittently throughout the night. ‘I’ve had dreams of my teeth crumbling out of my mouth and anxiety nightmares, where I spend the entire time feeling anxious within the dream. ‘When I wake up, I’m worn out and extremely tired, which makes me not want to get out of bed – it’s paralysing. I’ve pretty much had nightmares my whole life, but they never used to be as frequent as they are now. They definitely happen more when I’m stressed or anxious, but I’ve never spoken to anyone about them because I’m so used to it.’ When should you seek help for your nightmares? Just like mental health problems are very individual, so are nightmares, and having the occasional one doesn’t automatically mean you also have a mental health problem. Therapist Sally Baker tells Metro.co.uk it’s how these affect you that could be a sign of something troubling underneath the surface. ‘Occasional nightmares are completely normal and many people experience them,’ she said. ‘It is how you feel about having those nightmares and the judgements you make about them that indicates how you are feeling about yourself and can give you insights into whether you are feeling emotionally balanced and okay, or may need to seek professional help. ‘Dreams and nightmares are one of the ways the sub-conscious mind processes emotional challenges, so recurring nightmares can be a clue that your mind is struggling to cope with real life negative emotions or events. ‘The nightmares may even vary with different narratives but if they engender the same feelings on waking from them such as heightened anxiety or feeling of dread you are definitely struggling to process.’ How can you deal with constant nightmares? Hayley, 30, has suffered from night terrors for years and tells Metro.co.uk these are similar to nightmares, but completely ‘take over’ her mind. ‘It’s hard to deal with them, as I’m not sure when they will happen,’ she said. ‘I can go for nights without anything and then bam, suddenly I’m screaming in my sleep. The main difference between nightmares and night terrors is that night terrors completely take over. I also remember them a lot more vividly than nightmares. ‘They’re always the same – someone is trying to kill me. ‘Counselling helps and communicating what happens in my night terrors helps too, as it allows me to process and understand what’s happening in my head. ‘For example, whenever they happen, it’s always in the flat I lived in with my mum and I have a lot of negative emotions and memories in that place that I’ve never addressed. ‘The night terrors have actually allowed me to understand this and address these fears directly. ‘I often find if I’m relaxed or I’ve done a workout in the evening, this will rest my mind but ironically, my night terrors seem to be worse when things are going great – it’s a cruel twist.’ Sally also recommends speaking with a therapist about your nightmares, especially if you experience persistent after effects or if they’re anxiety-inducing. ‘If you are left with heightened anxiety or depression after recurrent nightmares, you can work with a therapist to resolve the negative emotions even when you are not sure what is bothering you,’ she said. ‘Be your own detective and focus on the feelings you’re left with, not the storyline of your nightmares as that will be more helpful in finding out what is at the root of your scary or disturbing dreams. ‘Also ask yourself what you may have been ignoring in your life or overlooking. ‘Your intuition or your gut reactions are always on your side and are your best friend, so ask yourself what have you been overriding in your life that in your heart of hearts you’re not really sure about.’ MORE: HEALTH You Don’t Look Sick: ‘I have MS but I get told to give up my train seat’ Will a CBD spree of workouts, croissants, and high tea get rid of your stress? Teenager uses coffee to colour her hair after dye left her looking ‘like a monster’ Having singular nightmares are usually not a sign of mental health problems. But if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and suffering from nightmares or even night terrors, it’s worthwhile speaking to a medical or mental health professional about it. Don’t ignore your sub-conscious mind – it can be just as telling as your conscious one.