How to shake off vivid dreams in the morning...
November 25, 2011 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Very vivid and intricate dreams - do you have tips on how to shake off lingering feelings in the morning?

I have very vivid, very long and very intricate dreams which I remember far too well. My dreams usually linger a long time, often sticking with me for the entire day. (Also, as I get more tired towards the following evening, the general feeling and details of my dreams tend to "come back".)

Mostly, those dreams are not outright nightmares and I frequently feel like I'm just shifting between being awake "in two different worlds", never really resting. (I recently had a rare morning of not remembering my dreams very well and what an epiphany it was to feel so rested, free and energetic!)

My dreams have been like this as long as I can remember and so far no amount of therapy/alcohol/benzodiazepines/antidepressants/antipsychotics, no change of sleep conditions, exercise, diet or overall mind-set have reliably made a difference.

At the moment I'm pretty much resigned to living with this vivid "otherworld". (And I would certainly also miss it if I found a way to "switch it off".) However, I would like to find a better way to shake off dream-related feelings and memories during the day.

This is more or less my regular morning routine:
(1) wake up slowly (using a dawn simulator alarm clock)
(2) have a cup of tea and/or take a shower while I
(3) go through my to-do list/schedule/expectations for the day in my mind
(4) leave the house and have breakfast on the way to work/uni

As I'm sure many other people have similar experiences on a fairly regular basis I'm wondering if any of you have any tips. Anything that has worked particularly well for you?

PS: Due to a leg injury exercise is pretty much out of the question right now.
posted by apolune to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
wake up slowly

Due to a medication, I've been having very vivid, very intense dreams lately. I've noticed that going from "asleep" to "awake" as soon as possible tends to knock them out of me.
posted by griphus at 8:32 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Like any other recurrent thoughts, it's best to acknowledge them and give them space in your mind. Your morning routine sounds like you're trying to push the dream out of your mind (tea/shower while you think about your to-do list/schedule) so maybe if you think about the dreams before you think about your day, acknowledge them, even welcome them, then they won't take up residence in your head all day.
posted by headnsouth at 8:38 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe switch from the slow-wake clock to a sleep cycle timer that wakes you at the appropriate point in the cycle? There's a ton of options; I was using one that used the accelerometer on my iPhone for a while (cheaper but clunky - I had to tuck the phone under the fitted sheet to track my movements all night), and just saw some kind of very expensive clock/monitor rig at Best Buy last week. There's probably something at just about every price point.

And don't underestimate the value of a good ritual. It might just mean that you sit up every morning and declare that dreams stay in bed, then get up and go about your business. It might mean listening to something very specific and realistic in the morning (maybe a short daily podcast about science or technology?) to shake it off.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:42 AM on November 25, 2011

In the same vein as headnsouth, do you write them down? This may or may not help, but it can be like putting them away instead of letting them take up sort of 'active memory space' during the day.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:43 AM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

As soon as you wake up, every morning, write three pages in long hand. Don't read them afterwards, and don't show them to anybody else.

It doesn't matter what you write, as long as it's three pages, in long hand, every morning, immediately on waking.
posted by tel3path at 8:45 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had really bad, vivid nightmares my whole life so I could have written your question. Sometimes I wake up still angry at my partner or afraid that the world's going to end. The best solution I have is to be grateful that the dream was just a dream. Sometimes it helps to describe the dream in detail to someone. It kind of purges the nightmare, and highlights the ridiculous parts so that the dream becomes funny instead of frightening.

But really, neither of those solutions are great. I often carry a sense of unease with me throughout my day so I'll be watching your question with interest. I'm sorry you've got the same problem. It sucks.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:48 AM on November 25, 2011

Maybe take a few minutes to "finish the dream" - create a vivid ending with a focus on the positive emotions so it leaves you feeling good. Then when the dream comes to mind, call up the positive feeling associated with your new ending. I tend to have anxious dreams - for example, I spend most of the dreaming to find where I parked my car. So, I would imagine turning around and seeing my car, the feeling of happy surprise, walking over, and driving away feeling satisfied. This lets me get up with a residual feeling of happiness and satisfaction instead of unresolved anxiety.
posted by metahawk at 8:52 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

This happens to me sometimes, and I enjoy it. Well, maybe enjoy isn't always the word, but I definitely allow it to happen. I'm not one of those that thinks that things like dream dictionaries mean much at all, but I find it very hard to believe that dreams, and more specifically your reactions to them, don't have a lot to do with your conscious and unconscious thoughts. So, I take the opportunity for some free psychoanalysis.
posted by cmoj at 8:57 AM on November 25, 2011

I had vivid dreams for a while, and wrote regularly, but not about my dreams. Once I started writing them down, they got more "restful" gradually. By that I mean, I still have vivid dreams, but much less often, and when I do, they feel familiar.

I too think that dreams have a link to our lives, if only for the obvious: we have them during our lives, after all. But dream dictionaries won't help, no. It's more like having another window onto your own life; hard to describe unless you get to know your own self that way (just writing them down is enough). Keep in mind, they're like our waking life! Not everything is poignant, deep, meaningful, whatever. Have fun, I enjoy my dreams much more now!

(Also, fwiw, I had terrible, almost debilitating nightmares for several years. They stopped, entirely, not long after I started writing down my dreams.)
posted by fraula at 9:09 AM on November 25, 2011

Having a routine helps me. As soon as I get up, I make coffee in the same way I make it every morning, cook some breakfast in the same way, show in the same way, etc. Knowing which step comes next helps me move on to that step, rather than getting stuck in whatever dream I had. It helps me get set up for the day.

I do try to write down my dreams, as well, though. Firstly I write it down as I remembered it, and then I think about how it relates to my life or present circumstances. Often, there isn't anything (having sex with Freddie Flintoff in a building site?), but doing that lets me cast a critical, rational eye over whatever happened in the dream and lessens it's emotional grip on me.

Also, how regular is your sleep cycle? I find I have the most vivid dreams when I snooze. Perhaps if you're waking up slowly, it's giving the dreams more of a chance to stick around?
posted by Solomon at 9:30 AM on November 25, 2011

I relate to your question completely. Megadoses of B 12 (3000 mcg sublingual lozenges taken daily) helped me somewhat, and I really recommend giving them a try.
posted by devymetal at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2011

Have you tried a grounding exercise? I've used them in the past, in similar situations, to good effect.
posted by Gorgik at 9:59 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My unshakable dreams were a symptom of my anxiety, and taking 75mg of amitriptyline an hour before bedtime ended this problem for me. I still dream, no problem, but it was as if the medication erected a barrier between asleep and awake. Ask your doctor.
posted by juniperesque at 10:19 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding junipereqsue - I have lots of vivid dreams, but I only have trouble shaking them when my stress level is unusually high. I had dreams like that pretty much all through high school, and pretty much immediately afterwards the lingering emotional trauma and/or brainfog went away, although the dreams themselves mostly stayed vivid. They weren't all bad dreams either, although some definitely were - I had a couple of stunning happy dreams that I can still call up that clung for a week or more. I have a whole notebook full of terrible poetry they inspired.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:31 AM on November 25, 2011

Please ask your GP for a recommendation for a psychiatrist or sleep specialist. This sounds a lot like me and after struggling for years with never being fully rested, I finally started falling asleep a lot during the day and just having difficulties getting things done due to chronic sleep deprivation. Turns out I have narcolepsy. I was dreaming for far too long at night, and REM sleep is not restful sleep. I was not spending enough time in deep, slow wave, restorative sleep. Taking Klonopin at night helps me sleep more soundly. I still dream, but not so mega-intensely. Again, if this is affecting your life as it sounds like it is, please see your doctor.
posted by infinityjinx at 10:52 AM on November 25, 2011

If you have very vivid dreams you might have some success at learning to be a Lucid Dreamer. I did and it made my previously very disturbing dream life so much more bearable.
posted by katyggls at 12:09 PM on November 25, 2011

I've had extremely vivid dreams all my life as well, although I've also got a heck of a lot of wonky circadian rhythm (or lack thereof) issues that are probably intermingled. Anyway, I like my dreams usually, and am with you on the "I would miss it" front, even if they are terrifying or strange or striking on a daily basis.

My general solution to shaking them off, or at least working past them, is to attempt to logically recount them. I'm lucky enough to have a roommate who puts up with my rambling, but if he's not up or around I can start typing it out on a pointless blog nobody else really follows, or just trying to remember it thoroughly while going through my routine in the bathroom.

Normally what happens when I do any of these things is that the innate logic failure of my dreams kind of... shatters them for me. They never make sense in the waking world, and if they continue to make sense in some way, the act of speaking the story out loud generally serves to indicate what problem it is I'm having in my waking life that is making my dreams so easy to follow - these dreams always seem to happen at the times of highest stress, so it's pretty simple.

I've tried to lucid dream and have achieved it by accident two times. Both times have resulted in dreams that I've never been able to "shake off", but they were both primarily positive experiences so I haven't wanted to. I'm unsure if it would help you to try and do this or not.
posted by Mizu at 12:25 PM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm also a very vivid dreamer, and like griphus, I find waking up quickly, or being awakened by my kid, or someone talking to me as soon as I wake up, usually chases dreams away. Before I had a kid, I lived alone and made my own work schedule; I always remembered my dreams in great detail because I could kind of continue the dream state into my morning.

Now I pretty much only remember weekend dreams, because the talkingest child in the world wakes me up every day. Dreams scatter like cockroaches.

A jarring awakening might be more than you're willing to pay, however.

If I've had a particularly knotty dream that is either disturbing me or potentially useful in terms of self-revelation, I write out as much of it as I can remember, as quickly as possible on waking. That's usually enough to put it in its place.
posted by looli at 1:02 PM on November 25, 2011

Notebook by the bed and start writing as soon as you realize you were dreaming. Nothing makes them disappear faster than trying to write them down accurately.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:49 PM on November 25, 2011

I agree with Mizo. Try recounting the dream out loud. My husband on sunday mornings gets my dream run down and the crazy non linear narrative of what I remember. You will likely find your thoughts hard to organize and by the time I'm 5 min into telling my dream its already slipped out of my head.
posted by saradarlin at 4:20 PM on November 25, 2011

My vivid dreams come and go, but I've noticed a pattern in them and in my waking life. What I do personally is write them down in a word doc on my computer. That helps ease the whole not being able to shake them off thing. I also end up talking about them at some point in the day to my partner/friend/neighbor whoever and I find the more I externalize the dream, the less its' on my mind. The most important thing in trying to get on with your day is to make a compromise with what I call your "inner world"...try to figure out what the dreams mean and remember that every person in your dream actually represents a part of yourself. For instance, let's say my friend is in the dream. I see my friend as someone who is intelligent but does not use her intelligence to her advantage and I'm angry at her in the dream. There's probably something to that in my waking life-- something that I'm lacking that I should be paying attention to. It's pretty amazing what our subconscious will tell us through a dream!!!
posted by camylanded at 6:56 PM on November 25, 2011

For a long time I tried writing out my dreams upon waking, but because my dreams are so emotionally charged, I found myself plunging back into all the fear/rage/frustration/sadness as I write. Which led to a rather unstable start to the day, pulling myself back out of the extreme emotions and trying to apply mascara to very tear-reddened eyes, and then steeling myself to return to the land of the living.
Tried Jungian dream analysis, even -- that went down like a lead brick.
The only things that sometimes help me are fifteen quiet minutes upon waking -- no active processing of the dream, but just doing some meditation or gentle stretches -- and perhaps sitting down in the afternoon or evening and trying to write down one or two key images, by which time the rawness of the emotions has subsided a bit. Trying to apply logic to them or analyze them or even write them out in their entirety is an endless downward spiral because there's so much to logic, analyze, write about.
posted by bluebelle at 7:39 PM on November 25, 2011

I find myself in the opposite situation. I am usually interested in my dreams, but when I try recounting them to somebody else verbally, I lose track of the entire dream. Other things, such as focusing on something else immediately after waking up, even just speaking/hearing my own voice makes them go away. For me, writing actually preserves the dream.
So, maybe you can try some specific task that requires a lot of your mental resources.
posted by ssri at 12:16 AM on November 26, 2011

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