why am i having these stressful dreams!?
March 26, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

For the past few weeks, I've been having extremely stressful dreams. Why? What will make them stop?

For the past few weeks or so, my dreams have become really stressful. They aren't nightmares, per se--they are less outwardly scary and more just full of anxiety and worry. They tend to have very intricate plots and are full of action, seeking, finding, and escaping. Warehouses, strange places, and empty cities are the settings. Social misunderstandings, arguments, and rejections are common themes. Ex-boyfriends, long-drifted friends, and neutral-to-unfriendly acquaintances compose much of the recurring cast, and often the dreams feature a huge betrayal or an ending of a relationship by someone who is still, in my real, non-dream life, a positive presence who is close to me.

What this means is that I wake up every morning emotionally exhausted and not rested at all.

I'm not sure what is bringing this about--nothing in my life has changed in the past few weeks. I am undergoing a lot of stress, but I've been undergoing a lot of stress for much longer than these dreams have been happening. I'm not particularly depressed or worried about anything, my diet hasn't changed, I'm not on medication. I have tried taking melatonin before bed, and it has had no effect on the dreams one way or the other. I have been prone to having these sorts of dreams every once in awhile my whole life, but this is getting ridiculous--literally, every single night.

Any ideas as to what is behind this, or any tips on how to make it stop? I am not a morning person in any sense, and waking up after these types of dreams makes every morning much worse.
posted by millipede to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just because you haven't had dreams during the entire period of the stress in your life doesn't mean that stress isn't causing these dreams now. It might help if you keep a dream journal where you write down what's going on in them to help you process them. You could also make time for some activity that relaxes you especially before bed.

You might also want to try melatonin. I take a time release version and am getting the best sleep of my life.
posted by Kimberly at 12:19 PM on March 26, 2010

Best answer: Is it possible that you're too warm when sleeping? My most anxiety-inducing dreams tend to happen when the room is too warm or when I have too many blankets on. I don't even have to be extremely uncomfortable for temperature to make things worse. Try sleeping with fewer coverings or turning down the heat and see what happens.
posted by Knicke at 12:23 PM on March 26, 2010 [4 favorites]

Are you getting enough exercise? I find that this helps even out any stressful dreams I'm having and makes me sleep more soundly. Obviously, you'll probably not want to do this just before going to sleep, but sometime during the day could help things out.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:36 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't a particularly helpful comment, but perhaps you should consider yourself lucky? I very rarely have dreams. Even a stressful dream would be interesting.

That being said, reflecting back upon a time when I had a series of stressful dreams, they were a strong indicator that something was wrong with my life. Perhaps it's time for a vacation in order to examine what you've been doing with your time.
posted by 517 at 12:40 PM on March 26, 2010

For me, it's usually me trying to work out a problem (any kind of problem). While I don't believe in universal dream symbols, it is helpful to me to examine what certain aspects of the dream mean to me.

I retell myself the story of the dream, and it starts to become clear to me what I am trying to work out. For example, I'm driving and the car is headed uphill, up, up, never seeming to end. I'm anxious. Retelling myself the story, I find that I am describing "not knowing my destination/not being able to see it" - this dream recurred a lot before I left for college.

Also, people from the past are not necessarily themselves (to me); they might be a manifestation of my feeling the same way that I felt when I used to hang out with them. Dreaming of a manipulative ex-friend = I currently feel that someone is trying to manipulate me. Once I realize this, and who it is, that helps.

Good luck!
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:56 PM on March 26, 2010

Seconding the dream journal recommendation. You can "train" your brain to remember dreams by writing down as much as you can remember right after waking up. I know it seems counter-intuitive to remember MORE of dreams that are disturbing, or spend MORE time thinking about them, but it might be a very helpful process.

I know this seems like spiritual woo-woo, but dreams are powerful. They are manifestations of our lives, our emotions, our struggles, and our sense of self. By writing these disturbing dreams down, and giving yourself some wakeful time to process them, you might have a moment of understanding or realization of why you dreaming the way you are. Often people popping up from your past has less to do with that actual person, but more the emotions, or themes experienced during your time with them. Letting yourself identify commonalities between dreams might help them stop, since your brain will have successfully shifted the difficulties from your unconsciousness to your wakeful, conscious self.
posted by missmary6 at 12:59 PM on March 26, 2010

I started on an SSRI about 6-7 months back and my dreams got horrible. Exercise is probably the best solution...it's what everyone says, but they say it for a reason.

I also started taking a tea with chamomile and valerian root before bed, and that seems to do well for me as well. Valerian root in particular seems to be a popular choice.

The other thing is to just wait it out. Dream patterns change. Early last year during a stressful period I started getting night terrors...literally panic attacks in your sleep. Horrible stuff. But it went away.
posted by hiteleven at 3:51 PM on March 26, 2010

Spring Daylight Savings always makes my generally bad dreams much worse for about a month.
posted by jamjam at 4:20 PM on March 26, 2010

Response by poster: You know, it MIGHT actually be about being too warm, and also it might have something to do with daylight savings. Huh!
posted by millipede at 8:33 AM on March 27, 2010

Are you sure you're not taking any medication? Not even over the counter meds? I've noticed that when I'm forced to take Claritin for allergies, my dreams get very intense and vivid. Vitamin B6 has the same type of effect on me. Apparently that's a common side-effect of them both.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:12 PM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: yes, i am sure i am not taking any medication. not even over the counter meds. those count as medication.
posted by millipede at 10:35 PM on March 27, 2010

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