Are my dreams sign of a sleep disorder?
May 31, 2009 1:56 AM   Subscribe

I have issues with dreams...specifically having them before I'm supposed to. I think I have a sleep disorder.

I have lots of dreams. Very very vivid dreams. I always remember them and sometimes they will be intense and I'll wake up with a rapidly beating heart. I also dream when I fall asleep in class for 5 minutes...which led me to read that this is not normal and may be the sign of a sleeping disorder.

I am young and since getting on a more normal schedule, I no longer have problems with sleeping in class, but if I take a short nap I do still dream and I still have the vivid dreams every night. I wear a mouthguard at night because I also grind my teeth. Sometimes I talk in my sleep. I have hay fever, but antihistimines like Claritin only make me more tired in the morning.

In the past I've been treated for depression, but my life is very happy now. I get lots of exercise, sunlight, and healthy food. I am in love with my boyfriend.

What kind of disorder could this be? Who should I see? What kind of treatments are used?
posted by idle to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Dreams when asleep? Normal.

Dreams that wake you up sometimes? Usual.

Dreams when napping are very often more vivid, as are dreams when you nod off for a bit.

It's a bit unusual to remember your dreams in detail when you wake up, but it's not a disorder. More of a talent.

Sounds like your'e a pretty typical human dreamer. Relax. It'll help you sleep better.
posted by Ookseer at 2:40 AM on May 31, 2009

Are you otherwise tired during the day normally? I have sleep apnea and the symptoms you describe could be consistent with sleep apnea, which is pretty common and possibly even underdiagnosed (although from what I understand they could also represent a different sleep disorder, or they could represent nothing medical at all as Ookseer points out.)

If you have insurance or other health care it's probably best to have your doctor refer you for a sleep study (which could diagnose a variety of conditions and give the most solid data for pursuing treatment.) If you don't have health care it's possible to try to detect apnea on your own by recording yourself with a pulse oximeter overnight like this one that usually sells for around US$99. (I think that eBay retailer might actually be the Chinese company that manufactures that one but there are lots of similar manufacturers and products.) You might also be able to borrow a pulse oximeter from someone who has sleep apnea.
posted by XMLicious at 2:45 AM on May 31, 2009

Response by poster: I just feel really exhausted when I wake up no matter how much sleep I get. Maybe I'll check out the apnea thing. My father has that.
posted by idle at 3:46 AM on May 31, 2009

Always exhausted when you wake up would definitely fit sleep apnea. If you do turn out to have it I would just say be persistent in pursuing treatments. It took me a little bit more than a year, trying and failing almost every single night, before becoming comfortable wearing a CPAP machine at night, between trying different settings (which require a prescription to change, grr) different masks, and different sleep medications, but it was definitely worth it.
posted by XMLicious at 4:10 AM on May 31, 2009

When I wasn't treated and my apnea got worse I would have the experience of suddenly waking up to find myself inhaling deeply, with my heart beating quickly, often so that I remembered a dream I was having. This was unusual because I normally sleep very deeply and don't remember my dreams or wake up during the night. This pretty much stopped happening once I was able to use the CPAP machine all night.

But I'm not a sleep expert either and I might also have a 2nd sleep disorder that was resolved by one of the various treatments I tried. Or my experience could be completely unrelated to idle's of course.
posted by XMLicious at 4:30 AM on May 31, 2009

I have these symptoms myself, more or less, and was diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnia. (Which, literally translated, means "excessive sleepiness of unknown cause" - not the most helpful diagnosis.) Modafinil is effective in treating it.

See a doctor, get a referral to a sleep specialist, they'll probably have you do an overnight test to determine how long it takes you to fall asleep, and how long it takes from falling asleep to the onset of REM. If these are atypically short times, and it sounds like they will be, then that would form the basis of the diagnosis.

I strongly suspect from my own experience that idiopathic hypersomnia and depression interact in a way that make each other worse. Lifestyle, happiness in life, exercise and good diet all help, but if the underlying disorder is of biochemical origin, you may need ongoing medication even when you don't feel depressed as such.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:25 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ask your doctor to refer you to a sleep specialist, or at least do a sleep study. This will answer your questions about whether or not this is a disorder or just a funny thing that your body does. Given that you have a family history of sleep apnea, it would be best to get that under control if it is indeed what's going on.

Excessive tiredness can also be caused by other sleep disorders, or even thyroid conditions.

The dreaming sounds fairly normal, but coupled with excessive tiredness, yes, that could be a sign of an underlying problem. Go get a sleep study done and you'll know for sure if there's something going on that can be treated or if this is just a thing your body does.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:01 AM on May 31, 2009

Grinding your teeth at night can be a symptom of sleep apnea. But you could have any number of sleep disorders. Do as aeschenkarnos says and see a sleep specialist. Sleep is too important to your overall health, both physical and mental, to ignore.
posted by katyggls at 7:06 AM on May 31, 2009

You say you were treated for depression; are you still taking antidepressants? They cause very vivid dreams.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:08 AM on May 31, 2009

I also dream when I fall asleep in class for 5 minutes

That's not normal. If you can do this consistently, I'd suggest you might have narcolepsy. I have narcolepsy, and can hit my REM cycle in about two minutes. Some people have it even worse (the stereotypical movie portrayal: falling asleep mid-sentence) but for most it just means nodding-off repeatedly throughout the day.

That said, you don't tend to wake up feeling tired if you have narcolepsy. Quite the opposite, actually. This would tend to point towards a diagnosis of sleep apnea. But until you've actually gone to a clinic and done a proper sleep study, you won't know for sure.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:08 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

You definitely need a sleep study. I used to have vivid dream during naps and I was constantly exhausted - I had a sleep study and I was diagnosed with sleep apnea.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:37 AM on May 31, 2009

I agree with the first paragraph that Civil_Disobedient wrote above. You can google 'sleep onset REM' and 'hypnagogic hallucination' for more info.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 7:45 AM on May 31, 2009

Idle, it's my understanding that if you're consistently dreaming, you don't have apnea.

This is false. When my moderately-severe sleep apnea was untreated, I had plenty of dreams, and remembered plenty of them. I was getting 15% of the REM sleep I should have gotten, but I still got REM sleep. Also, dreams are not exclusive to the REM stage.
posted by agropyron at 7:54 AM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Idle, it's my understanding that if you're consistently dreaming, you don't have apnea.

Totally false. I have vivid dreams every night and I have severe apnea.
posted by desjardins at 8:17 AM on May 31, 2009

Response by poster: Can you have apnea without snoring? My boyfriend reports that I do not snore.
posted by idle at 6:12 AM on June 1, 2009

Yes, it is possible to have apnea even if you don't snore.
posted by rakaidan at 7:38 PM on June 1, 2009

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