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We all dream. Now, wouldn’t it be great if we could control our dreams? As you might imagine, it’s incredibly difficult to study dreams and to draw firm conclusions about them. Although there are certain themes that are seen across wide populations, dreams are very individual, often elusive experiences of the mind.

The fact is, we can’t completely control our dreams. They’re filled with snippets from our daily lives and our innermost thoughts. But there are things we can do to improve sleep and manage stress so we’re more likely to have better dreams at night.

Nothing can guarantee good dreams. But here are some tips for getting better sleep, de-stressing, and upping the chances of having more fulfilling dreams.

1. Get enough quality sleep

Adults generally need 7 or more hours of sleep each night. Try these tips if you’re having trouble getting good sleep:

  • Try to make bedtime and wake-up time the same every day.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
  • Turn off all lights, including nightlights. Turn glowing clocks away from your field of vision. If light peeks in through the windows, get room-darkening window shades.
  • When sleep eludes you, don’t lie around looking at the clock. Get out of bed and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you start feeling sleepy.

2. Exercise

Getting regular exercise during the day can help you fall asleep better at night. Keep in mind that if you exercise too close to bedtime, you might actually have trouble winding down and falling asleep.

3. Dedicate a sleep zone

Clear your bedroom of clutter. Remove the TV, computers, smartphones, and other electronics that glow and beep. If you must have a workspace in your bedroom, use a room divider to keep it out of sight at bedtime.

Make your bedroom a sanctuary from the outside world.

4. De-stress before bed

Take the hour before bedtime to de-stress with whatever relaxes you, such as:

During this hour, avoid:

  • work
  • strenuous exercise
  • eating and drinking
  • screen time

5. Skip the nightcap

Alcohol can make you sleepy at first, but it interferes with your sleep cycle. With alcohol in your system, you’re more likely to have vivid dreams and nightmares.

6. Change your sleep position

If you’re prone to unpleasant dreams, try changing your usual sleep position.

In a small 2004 study, people who slept on their left side reported having more nightmares than people who slept on their right side. And a 2012 study found that sleeping on their stomachs may promote dreaming of sexual or persecutory material such as being smothered, locked up, or unable to move.

7. Eat foods with melatonin

Melatonin, a hormone that your body makes naturally, may improve sleep quality. Melatonin is also found in various foods such as:

  • eggs
  • fish
  • meat
  • milk
  • nuts
  • some cereals
  • germinated legumes or seeds
  • mushrooms

8. Try melatonin supplements

A 2013 meta-analysis concluded that melatonin decreases sleep onset latency, increases total sleep time, and improves overall sleep quality, though effects are modest.

In 2018, researchers detailed the cases of three people who experienced nocturnal hallucinations. The hallucinations were reduced when participants took 5 mg of melatonin.

Taking melatonin for dreams can affect everyone differently. While some people may find that melatonin improves dreams, others may have more vivid and potentially scarier dreams.

Melatonin can interact with some medications. If you’re having trouble sleeping or having bad dreams, talk to a doctor about the benefits and risks of taking melatonin supplements.

9. Manage anxiety

In a 2014 study of older adults, those who had generalized anxiety disorder had more bad dreams than those who didn’t. The researchers also suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy can help people with anxiety to reduce bad dreams.

10. Create a dream journal

Dreams are a jumble of your daytime thoughts and experiences. Bad dreams may reflect things that are stressing you out. Try writing about the details of your dreams as soon as you wake up, including the emotions you felt.

This exercise may help you connect your dreams to real life situations. Confronting the issues in your waking life may help improve your dream life.

11. Take up virtual gaming

According to a 2019 study, playing physically interactive games was positively correlated with lucid and lucid/control dream frequency. Overall gameplay makes it more likely that game content will make its way into your dreams and may increase lucid dreaming. This is also known as the Tetris effect.

12. Practice lucid dreaming

Lucid dreaming is when you know you’re in a dream while you’re in it. And you can learn how to lucid dream. By training yourself to test reality in a dream, you can gain a certain amount of control over how it goes and how you react to it.

There are many theories about why we dream and what it all means. But dreams are extremely subjective, easily forgotten, and very difficult to research. It’s fairly certain that everybody dreams, even if we don’t remember them.

Dreams are usually an abstract mix of thoughts that relate to what’s happening in your life. When it comes to interpreting dreams, the exact details may matter less than the feeling you have when you wake up. If you’re feeling good about things, your dreams will probably be more positive.

There are dreams you immediately forget, some that leave a fleeting impression, and others that stick with you indefinitely. As you go through life, there’s a good chance that you’ve experienced an array of good, bad, and just plain mind-blowing dreams. Among the many types of dreams are:

Dreams are difficult to control, but there are some steps you can take to promote better dreams at night. It may help to take stock of unpleasant dreams and confront unresolved issues that play out in your dreams. Another key factor is getting enough quality sleep.

If you aren’t sleeping well or are troubled by stress-related dreams, see a doctor.