I'm a bit reluctant to go to bed...
August 10, 2009 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I have bad nightmares...

The situations vary somewhat but generally they are:
(sexually) violent and gruesome situations where I am going to be murdered/raped in a horrible way
very vivid and 'real'
make me wake up eventually like ...in movies...with a big gasp, sweating, unsettled and needing comfort, tearful, etc.
occuring maybe once every couple months, sometimes nothing for 6 months or more.
not linked to any real life event or worry (although I have suffered sexual attacks in my life, they are very different situations to what happened to me)

So...why is this happening? Theyre very annoying and put me in a very unhappy and nervous mood for the rest of the day. They don't occur enough for me to worry per se but they are upsetting and can bother me for a while after. 99% of the time I have undisturbed sleep and lovely, satisfying dreams of perfect situations. Is my unconcious balancing itself out? Does anyone else get this?
posted by Neonshock to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Everyone experiences this from time to time, and the reasons vary. Are you stressed out? About anything? Experience any emotional trauma? Did anyone close to you? Did you watch something gruesome recently? One thing is for sure - the more you think about these dreams, the more likely it is you'll continue to have them.
posted by katillathehun at 3:03 PM on August 10, 2009

Stress causes me to have nightmares like this.
posted by sporaticgenius at 3:14 PM on August 10, 2009

I had completely insane dreams when I went on the patch to quit smoking. Seriously weird shit. I have not experienced anything like it since.
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:16 PM on August 10, 2009

not linked to any real life event or worry (although I have suffered sexual attacks in my life, they are very different situations to what happened to me)

Your subconscious isn't a literal-minded allegory or a fine-tuned alembic, more like a crude, id-like machine that feeds on the too-suppressed or too-prevalent emotions of your day and churns out dreams that roughly correspond. Something may have triggered a memory of your real-life sexual attacks that you consciously ignored--a guy who looked like your attacker, a moment of fear when a car whizzed out in front of you that felt like that old familiar panic, whatever--and those triggers meandered their way out of your watery subconscious and into a dream. You don't have to dream exact replicas of your old memories as long as the emotional climax is the same. If you haven't received therapy for painful memories, it could help.

I have the bouts of crippling nightmares, and for similar reasons, and like many people I find that they're worse when I sleep on my back. Drinking, stress, and falling asleep in a too-hot room also provoke nightmares. Ignoring their existence has never worked for me, and I generally try to figure out what sort of worries and fears I'm tamping down in my conscious life that are worming their way into my sleep.

I had completely insane dreams when I went on the patch to quit smoking.

My boyfriend says the same thing, and has woken me up on numerous occasions to recount gory nightmares of the zombie apocalypse caused by nuclear warfare or whatever, which I can never remember because I'm half asleep when I hear about it.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:24 PM on August 10, 2009

Don't overthink it: any self-diagnosis with regards to the machinations of your psyche is bound to be speculative, pseudo-sciencey, and probably just plain wrong. There are scores of things that can cause nightmares, as harmless as indigestion or medication and as serious as preterit trauma or underlying neurological condition. Your best bet is to talk with a sympathetic physician, who will help you determine what approach you should take. Treatment options are varied, plentiful, but must be personalized.
posted by mr. remy at 3:27 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Claritin gave me violent, angry nightmares, especially the 24-hour formula. My stress/sick/drunk dreams tend to be of a totally different flavor; I've only had the extraordinary violent ones in reaction to medication. I take Zyrtec now.

I would suggest, the day after one of these dreams, you try to log the previous day's (or two days') food, sleep, medications, media-consumption, chemical exposure, and general life events as best you can. It might take you a couple of years to find a pattern, but there may very well be one.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:27 PM on August 10, 2009

...not linked to any real life event or worry (although I have suffered sexual attacks in my life, they are very different situations to what happened to me)

I'm no professional, but I'll bet any therapist would want to talk more about the "sexual attacks" you've experienced before. Just because your nightmares are not reenactments of real-life trauma doesn't mean this isn't the root of the problem.

I have no personal experience at all, but you might start with some reading on the topic.

Banishing night terrors and nightmares : a breakthrough program to heal the traumas that shatter peaceful sleep claims to help you understand and reduce these sorts of things. See if your local library has a copy.
posted by General Tonic at 3:31 PM on August 10, 2009

See some of the answers, including mine, in this related thread.
posted by peagood at 3:32 PM on August 10, 2009

Keep a diary. It might be that these nightmares are related to and being triggered by a real world event. The connection might not be obvious at first, which is why the diary is a good idea. You can look back and try to spot patterns that could be causing these dreams. It might just be eating a certain food, for example.

I tend to get really vivid dreams about situations that sort of make sense, and they're often quite peaceful. Occasionally, I'll have a nightmare. They tend to follow the same format as my other dreams, but they have a component that makes me scared. I don't think, though, that my subconscious is trying to scare me. I think that it's my interpretation of the dream that scares me. My brain is just doing it's thing and it's the images themselves that I respond to, in the same way that I respond to things in real life. There's no "balancing" going on. It's just that occasionally, a different film gets played, so to speak. It doesn't mean anything.

When I have a dream like this, I tend to wake up in a panic. Then I calm myself down by telling myself that it was just a dream (which is all it is, it can't hurt me) and then I go back to sleep. I find that the more I dwell on it, and think about it, and the more attention I give it, the worse I feel. Pushing my rational mind to the fore, and thinking about the fact that this was a completely ephemeral thing helps me chill out about it.

They're scary dreams. But that's all they are. They don't have any power to hurt you beyond the power that you give them.
posted by Solomon at 3:43 PM on August 10, 2009

My father told me that garlic gives him bad nightmares. He is, of course, nuts. But I am noticing the same correlation -a good dose of garlic and my dreams get really weird. On the off chance that you are also nuts, I second Solomon's suggestion of keeping track of what you eat and do the day before a bad nightmare.
posted by Killick at 4:17 PM on August 10, 2009

This is also a very closely related thread - the overall verdict seemed to be "it's a reaction to stress," and dreams of sex and violence do not seem to be uncommon at all.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:10 PM on August 10, 2009

Dreams are brainfarts, really. However, there is a distinct chemical influence. 'Chemical' means neurochemical, drug, or anything else already in your carcass or stuck in your carcass. Garlic, cortisol, Celexa, dopamine.

And they're influenced by your experiences, so different chemical things in your gray matter are going to be interpreted differently by your brain.
posted by kldickson at 8:54 PM on August 10, 2009

Whatever you do, don't be afraid of them. Because if they're gonna come - they're gonna come. You really don't need to be making things any worse for yourself. :)

They're a manifestation of *something else*.
Figure that part out and they'll just go away by themselves.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:31 AM on August 11, 2009

i have the same types of dreams, plus other horrors (at least to me) like tidal waves. i have them almost all the time, but they are SUPER amped when i am under extra stress -- the more stress, the more gorey the dreams become. i went for a long time in college without sleep because i just refused to dream anymore (it doesn't really work).

night terrors and bad dreams are also often a symptom of depression and drug withdrawal (even from regular use of things like benadryl), fwiw.
posted by unlucky.lisp at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2009

oh! i forgot the more helpful part of my post -- meditating myself to sleep often helps reduce these dreams. because i am less stressed when i actually fall asleep, it doesn't carry over into my dreams as often.
posted by unlucky.lisp at 10:52 AM on August 11, 2009

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