Why do I have nightmares every night?
August 19, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Why do I have nightmares EVERY night?

I've been dealing with this problem for a while now, but I don't know how to stop it. I have nightmares every single night! Its been going on for about two weeks now, and I can't handle it. I've been grinding my teeth, and biting my inner cheeks while asleep. I also wake up in a state of panic, loss of breath, increased heart rate, distraught, etc. I am really starting to get worried.

Are there any ways to stop this from happening? What could this be?
posted by shortbus to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you drink water before you go to bed? I noticed that I have an increase of nightmares or realllly weird dreams when I'm dehydrated.
posted by littlesq at 10:56 AM on August 19, 2010

For me, nightmares happen if I have dinner too close to bedtime.

And of course, if I'm worried or anxious about something. Is something going on in your life that's making you feel out of control?
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:59 AM on August 19, 2010

You do not say what the subject of the nightmares is. Does it repeat nightly or are they random?
posted by markx2 at 11:02 AM on August 19, 2010

Did you recently start taking an SSRI or something similar? That can sometimes cause vivid dreams/nightmares.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:02 AM on August 19, 2010

I had a hard time finding scientific evidence on the web, however most medical marijuana users find it suppresses dreams. People with frequent nightmares from PTSD sometimes find relief this way. Most causal smokers also notice they have less dreams when smoking semi-frequently which return when usage stops.
posted by patrad at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2010

It could also be problems with sleep apnea. I have mild sleep apnea and I have intense nightmares when I'm actually stopping breathing. At first I thought it was the nightmares causing my shortness of breath but it's actually my not breathing that my subconscious is reacting to in dream land.
posted by msbutah at 11:09 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't guess as to why they started (okay, I can guess. Sounds like anxiety), but now that you're worried about them, the problem's only going to get worse. Perhaps find something pleasant to watch/read/listen to right before bed. Anything to take your mind off the bad dreams.
posted by katillathehun at 11:09 AM on August 19, 2010

Are you overheated or too cold? Is there too much light in your bedroom at night? I think that shallower sleep often causes you to wake up remembering dreams that normally you'd never remember.

Have you started taking any new medication, not just SSRIs? (I've have a medication used for sleep give me extremely intense dreams.)

From a psychological standpoint, is anything happening in your life that started about the time the nightmares started, or a little before? Did you see/read/hear about anything somewhat disturbing that you didn't think more of at the time, but now might be echoing in your dreams? Are you anticipating any major life changes in the near future?
posted by telophase at 11:11 AM on August 19, 2010

I'm not sure if it's just an old wives tale or not but have you gotten into the habit of eating certain foods a couple hours before you sleep? I used to have exactly the same issue but for about a month or so, a friend suggested I stop eating snack foods like sweets or other unhealthy things right before bed. I stopped having frequent nightmares almost immediately, though it could be purely coincidental (though it can't hurt you to try.)

However, if you're waking up in such a panic as you describe it may be much more than a matter of diet. Are you over stressed or anxious about any particular circumstance in your waking life? If so consider what those issues may be and determine do they symbolically correlate into your dream cycle.
posted by xbeautychicx at 11:13 AM on August 19, 2010

Have you been taking allergy pills or an over the counter sleep aid like "simply sleep?" Diphenhydramine gives me nightmares.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:17 AM on August 19, 2010

For me, not being tired enough (usually from lack of exercise), dehydration (esp. from a hangover) and sometimes food just before bed (esp. spicy stuff like food-truck tacos or pepperoni pizza) can give me bad dreams. Exercise may help you be more naturally tired and just sleep better.
posted by JulianDay at 11:19 AM on August 19, 2010

Response by poster: Nothing has really changed much in my life. I was on my Honeymoon and woke up with my husband but then he went back to work (and I was waking up alone), I noticed that they had started. I had woke up in panic before the nightmares occurred.

Does it repeat nightly or are they random?

They are random, no pattern that I can detect.

Did you recently start taking an SSRI or something similar?

I haven't taken any new medicines in the past 6 months.


When I go to sleep, I am very comfortable. I recently got married but I don't think that this is effected by that since I am content with the marriage. I am about to start college this coming week but I'm not really nervous or anything, because I've always loved school.

I've had a history of problems with headaches and for a while I wasn't having any problems with them. They've been starting up again... Not sure if that has anything to do with it
posted by shortbus at 11:23 AM on August 19, 2010

Mr. Adams complained for many, many months of never getting restful sleep because he was having very vivid and disturbing nightmares during the night. He'd wake up suddenly panting and gasping and then would suffer from terrible headaches every morning. Our regular doctor suggested a sleep study, which ultimately diagnosed some severe sleep apnea (I forget how many times he'd stopped breathing according to his test results). Anyway, he now has a C-PAP machine, and although that took some getting used to (face mask-wise, etc), he has been sleeping very much more soundly and if he still has nightmares, they don't waken him and he doesn't remember them the next morning.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:26 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am concerned about the fact that you grind your teeth at night due to your nightmares. Ideally you should figure out a means of sleeping without nightmares and without grinding your teeth, but in the event that you do not figure out a way to do that, your teeth are at risk. Prolonged grinding will eventually damage them, and that could become a much bigger problem than nightmares. You can see a dentist about this and you can be fitted with a mouthpiece that will protect your teeth at night, even if you clench your jaws. This might be a wise precaution in your case.

As for the nightmares, if you are not actually feeling any abnormal anxiety about anything, then there is probably some purely chemical problem, such as an excess adrenaline secretion due to an abnormality of the adrenal glands. You could have your blood tested to see what your adrenaline levels are - or in any event, consult your doctor and get an informed opinion.
posted by grizzled at 11:32 AM on August 19, 2010

Wait, you just got married and you are about to start school, but 'Nothing has really changed much in my life'? One time I was in a school play; I love getting up on stage and I have no fears in that regard, but I broke out in hives the day of the first performance. Sometimes your body and your mind know more about you than your conscious mind knows.

Anyway, if you are one of those people who believes in it, you might try to interpret your dreams based on the items in them. Maybe it'll be of no help; maybe it will help guide you to what's really going on.

Disclaimer: I don't believe in it; I'm just offering up something that might help.
posted by CathyG at 11:34 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does it only happen in your bed in your house, or do you get nightmares anywhere you sleep?

Does your university have a medical college associated with it that might have a sleep clinic?
posted by contessa at 11:38 AM on August 19, 2010

Response by poster: CONTESSA:

I've been sleeping in my bed since this has started. The school I'm going to be attending does have a medical college, I'll try to find out if they do any sleep clinics...
posted by shortbus at 11:52 AM on August 19, 2010

Have you been consuming anything with quinine? Anti-malarial tablets? tonic water?
posted by TheOtherGuy at 12:58 PM on August 19, 2010

Anecdotally: when I was a college freshmen, I went through a spell of having terrible, violent dreams every time I went to sleep. Even when I took a ten minute nap, I'd have a nightmare. It eventually got to the point where I didn't want to go to sleep at all.

So I saw a counselor about it, who suggested that I wear myself out with exercise in the late afternoon (not too near bedtime). I didn't think it would work, but I tried it anyway, and the frequency of my nightmares drastically decreased. I'm sure that at the time I was experiencing a lot of unacknowledged stress and anxiety due to transitioning to a tough college. Endorphins + exhaustion helped a lot.
posted by zoetrope at 1:28 PM on August 19, 2010

I agree with CathyG- I was surprised to hear that you don't consider these life-changing events as changes in your life! You don't have to feel stressed about something in order for it to affect you. In fact, because you are adament about NOT having any fears or concerns with these new changes, that could very likely be manifesting in your dreams. Subconsciously you could indeed be working through some minor anxiety about these new things, or at least it could be the result of the extra recent decisions you had to make prior to these changes.

But now the thing it to stop the nightmares. No matter the original cause, at this point, the nightmares are probably reoccurring because you are feeling anxious about having them and that fear is contributing to the problem.

My favorite trick to fix this was taught to me when I was a kid having this problem, and I found that it still helps me as an adult. Here it is: as soon as you wake up from your nightmare, don't let yourself fully wake up and push away the images from your dream. Picture everything clearly, except (and this is the key) change the scariest element into something good or inconsequential; something that either makes you feel relieved, or is humorous. Then try to fall back asleep picturing this new story. Essentially, you are changing the dream. It might take a couple of nights of trying this, but it really did work for me.
posted by Eicats at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

One other thing that could be contributing: did you recently quit smoking, by any chance? Some of the worst nightmares of my life happened when I was quitting smoking.
posted by Eicats at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2010

Headaches can also be a symptom of sleep apnea.

If you're having any daytime sleepiness or fatigue, it's worth getting that checked into.
posted by wintersweet at 2:05 PM on August 19, 2010

you wouldnt be having coffee after about 6pm or 7 have you ?
posted by majortom1981 at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2010

I used to be a prolific dreamer (remembering quite a lot in the morning). But they weren't bad dreams.

Anyway -- I started blogging about my dreams, writing down all the crazy twists and turns and finding images to post along with them. And I stopped dreaming.

Maybe this would work for you. Blog the specifics of your dreams and maybe you'll find you don't remember your dreams anymore.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:30 PM on August 19, 2010

I have had intense, disturbing, heart-racing dreams every night since I was a child. I am now 51. I wake up with the symptoms you describe. I wake up screaming, or struggling to scream. I disturb my bed partners, when I am fortunate enough to have them.

It has never stopped. I have tried everything.

However, all I can tell you about are things that have helped. The causes of your nightmares may very well be different from mine, but what I do know is that most nightmares are caused by stress and anxiety in our waking lives. So what you do is try to find ways to reduce those things. Some people will say cut out caffeine, alcohol, this, that, whatever... and you know, it's worth trying that. It may work for you. It didn't work for me. But what I have learned is that what works is whatever relaxes you. For me it's massage. It's being free from obvious sources of stress. This, of course, is not always possible, but it's what works for me. Maybe try meditation? Think about things that relax you. Try to really wind down for a couple of hours before you go to bed. Listen to relaxing music. have good sex, if you can. Also, try to make yourself physically tired. I have found that helps a bit. If I work my body really hard I find I sleep better, longer. Good luck.
posted by Decani at 4:36 PM on August 19, 2010

You might see if your school has anyone who does sleep research, and ask them for advice.

One thing that helps me work through issues similar to yours was to try to understand the dreams I had. I'd suggest not looking at online "dream dictionaries", but actually try to find someone who knows something about dream interpretation. Working through them and understanding them may help both in terms of removing some of the fear, and reducing their intensity. Again, someone from your school might be able to help.

FYI, my experience while doing dream work when I was in school was the opposite of vitabellosi's. The students that went through our program overwhelmingly reported more remembered dreams as a result of keeping a dream diary.
posted by Gorgik at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2010

Okay, it sounds kind of crazy but... An article went around the science blogs a while back that said to induce your own "hallucinations," turn a radio to a staticky station and cover your eyes with ping pong balls, lay quietly and wait. Here's the article.

In the couple of years since I have started sleeping with a fan for background noise and a sleep mask for dark, I have started dreaming lucidly through no conscious effort to do so. And I also dream much more vividly, whether my dreams are good or bad.

This could also be attributed to the fact that I take Effexor and so maybe I'm totally wrong.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:55 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

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