Nightmare Protocol

We know that sleep is important for our health and improving our mood. However, nightmares can really disturb our sleep, leaving us feeling anxious, spooked, and tired. 

The Nightmare Protocol is a multi-step process to help deal with nightmares. This DBT technique is really helpful for re-occurring nightmares. The six steps are as follows:

In the morning/during the day…

  • First do something relaxing to get in a calm headspace. This could be some brief mindfulness, listening to upbeat/calming music, or even breathing techniques
  • Think of a less intense nightmare that you would like to work on. It is best to pick a nightmare that you feel like you can work on in that moment 

Ex: you slip on a banana peel during your big solo in the school play

  • Write down your chosen nightmare. Write down the details you can remember, as if you are writing down a story. You can also include notes on how you were feeling during certain parts of the nightmare.
  • Choose a different ending for your nightmare. Now that you have the details down, think of an alternative ending. What would be an ending that would feel good, or even neutral? This is a dream, so you can be as creative as possible (it can be extraordinary, like gaining a superpower!). NOTE: This change should happen BEFORE anything bad happens to anyone or anything in the nightmare. 

Ex: new ending could be as simple as not slipping on the banana peel, or instead of falling from slipping you do an impressive backflip and get a standing ovation

  • Now REWRITE your whole nightmare WITH THE CHANGES

At night and before bed…

  • REHARSE your changed nightmare and practice relaxation. Practice this nightmare with the new ending every night before bed, along with your favorite wind-down techniques. You can practice by reading through the new script or even visualizing the new ending. It is important to make this a part of your bedtime routine.

It also helps to practice this during the day too! 

Have you ever used the nightmare protocol? How might it be helpful with nightmares? What are some things that have helped in the past with nightmares?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

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