If dreamcatchers were real, my dreamcatcher would be hazardous waste
October 22, 2015 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Every morning, I have bad dreams, which means I wake up stressed, sweaty, gasping, full of adrenaline before I've even gotten out of bed. How do I change this?

The adrenaline levels are so high, it genuinely is like starting every morning with a car crash. and it means my ability to cope with the day is lower than it would be without bad dreams.

It's also a vicious circle:
Bad dreams -> get more stressed by Monday's events -> even more bad dreams -> get even more stressed by Tuesday's events -> even even more bad dreams

I have sleep apnoea, it's being treated with a CPAP machine, and doesn't appear to be the issue.

The bad dreams have gotten to the point that I am thinking meds (sleeping tablets?, anti-anxiety meds?, anti-depressants?) may be needed - have spoken to a psychiatrist's receptionist, but the next available appointment isn't til next year. I've seen a psychologist, who said I didn't have Clinical Anxiety or Clinical Depression.

I drink chamomile tea at bedtime and take magnesium tablets, but it doesn't seem to help much.
posted by Year of meteors to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to try asking your PCP, as they can also prescribe things like sleeping medications and anti-depressants. You should know, however, that anti-depressant can make dreams MORE vivid for some people.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:43 PM on October 22, 2015

Are you eating anything particularly rich in the few hours before bed? I have very vivid dreams if eat cheddar cheese too late in the evening.
posted by kitten magic at 9:48 PM on October 22, 2015

The bad dreams have gotten to the point that I am thinking meds (sleeping tablets?, anti-anxiety meds?, anti-depressants?)

I had panic attacks in my sleep and sleep and anti anxiety medication helped. i would try to get some help ASAP because prolonged poor sleep with anxiety is really horribly bad for your mind and health.

Also can you exercise like a lot? Like very vigorous exercise an hour each day. Eat foods with very low sugar.
posted by zutalors! at 9:52 PM on October 22, 2015

What's your sleep set up like? Could you be too hot or too cold? Is the room well-ventilated or stuffy? Is your mattress comfortable? Is your bedding clean? Or do you need new pillows? Maybe run your pillows through the dryer to kill of dust mites. Is your CPAP reservoir sparkling clean? (My husband's got moldy and that was bothering him until we cleaned it.)

Also, are you sleeping through the night? A full 7-8 hours? I know my dreams are way weirder if I get up to feed the dog at 0700 and then go back to sleep for a couple of hours. I noticed one of your previous questions was about a required medication. Have you spoken with your doc to see if there is an alternative without the sleep disruption side effect? Or something else you can take alongside it to help?

Oh, and one more thing, maybe lay off the tea before bed. Drinking a lot of liquid before bed almost always gives me extremely weird dreams about severe difficulty finding a private and/or clean toilet (they are often located on stadium seats for some reason and overflowing - uck)
posted by Beti at 9:55 PM on October 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Going to see a therapist and working through some of my stressors and anxieties helped significantly for me. Sleep medicines almost invariably give me weird/scary dreams. It's hard to give advice, sleep issues can be very different person to person and what helps one person may not be useful to others. Are there other psychiatrists you can can who have sooner appointments available?
posted by HMSSM at 10:09 PM on October 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd have money on you overheating. Overheating causes terrible nightmares.
posted by taff at 1:09 AM on October 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

I see you're Australian as well! We've just finished winter and are one and a half months into summer part 1 (or 'spring') so I would definitely recommend you give some thought as to whether you could be overheating. I had been having singularly horrific nightmares since the start of October until I searched Ask MeFi out of desperation a few days ago. Initially I was skeptical when I read that the cause could be overheating, because I didn't think I had been getting too hot. But since I turned my fan on and started wearing less to bed I've had beautiful dreamless sleep.
posted by Quilford at 1:33 AM on October 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

maybe i'm a big hippie but for me, bad dreams generally mean something. and, generally, something not so abstract. you say you're getting stressed during the day. but your description is dreams -> stress -> more dreams. i'd re-arrange that as stress -> bad dreams and seriously look at how to improve my time while awake.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:10 AM on October 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

As someone who prescribes sleep meds all the time, that wouldn't be my first step. Clean your cpap, and if it's been a while, one might wonder if it needs the settings adjusted. Change up your sleep ritual; consider a new pillow or linens, clean and rearrange any nightstands/side tables. Keep the room cool and dark (do your window hangings let light in, is there a lamppost that shines through sometimes?) Then, finally, make time in the morning to write those nightmares down. Journaling them can help one sit with the dreams in a mindfulness sort of way and make them less triggering. As andrewcooke suggests, they can be saying something, we just have to learn our brain's individual language.

(If all that proves for naught, your GP should be able to look at a standard antidepressant to decrease your daily anxiety. These get taken in the morning, generally, and work best imo with backup talking therapy.)
posted by cobaltnine at 5:25 AM on October 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Would it help to set your alarm a bit early and try to wake up before the bad dreams start?
posted by bunderful at 5:27 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, another Australian. Yeah, overheating makes lots of sense. It's been gruesomely humid where I am on the east coast and my sleep was a mess until last night when it was blessedly cooler.
posted by kitten magic at 5:28 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Purchase a programmable thermostat for your central air. Program it to get really cold an hour before you usually start your bad dreams.
posted by myselfasme at 6:56 AM on October 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was having terrible panic attacks every morning at 8AM - my normal time to get up. This was going on a long time. So I decided to start getting up at 5AM and work for those three hours. Problem solved. (of course I had to start going to bed earlier.)
posted by cda at 7:19 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds totally woo but it's worked for me and a few other people: Especially if you're having recurring dreams of the same type, sit down and tell your brain, "The [whatever] imagery isn't working for me. It's making me panic. Please give me something I can understand without panicking." Keep it up for a few days.

It may not work, but it's free and easy to try while you also pursue some of the less-woo suggestions above.
posted by jaguar at 8:36 AM on October 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went through a period of having extremely violent, stressful, awful dreams every time I went to sleep. It was THE WORST and I feel for you. My doctor recommended starting with cutting way down on caffeine and exercising vigorously to the point of exhaustion early in the evening (not right before bed, but around dinnertime). It helped a lot. Good luck!
posted by zoetrope at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2015

I used to have the most godawful nightmares you can imagine. I got rid of them completely in about six months using the technique I describe here. It might help you, too.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:29 AM on October 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Aside from overheating, this might also be because you're waking up at the wrong point of your sleep cycle. I don't get this much adrenaline, but I tend to feel weird and off-balance when I have to wake up just after REM sleep. Try the sleepy time calculator to see when the ideal time to go to bed is for you. This calculator tends to be pretty accurate for me (it suggests 11 pm bedtime for a 6:30 am wake up time, which is basically right on the dot for me, give or take half an hour), but your sleep cycle may vary!
posted by yasaman at 12:04 PM on October 23, 2015

Eat a high fiber protein rich half sandwich before bed. The brain runs everything, and runs it on glucose. If you run out of brain food in the night, the brain will create false emergencies in the form of radical dreams to release adrenalin to make the liver convert body stores and put out brain food. Long chain carbs take time to break down and make a slow feed all night. If you drink milk have milknwith the half sandwich, you don't have to load it up with fats, just multigrain bread with nuts, or even an almond butter half sandwich. If that is not good, try chili with beans and meat.
posted by Oyéah at 12:15 PM on October 23, 2015

Images and thoughts that I've been exposed to during the day, especially during the last couple hours before sleep, often show up in my dreams. I like to prime my brain with something soothing and beautiful at the end of the day -- look at a flower catalog, or exquisite nature videos like these. These images, and the moods associated with them, often show up in my dreams.

Related to Pater Aletheias' comment above: you could try training yourself in lucid dreaming. It's quite easy and effective -- when I have a dream starting to get ugly I can usually turn it in a better direction without waking up entirely.
posted by Corvid at 2:23 PM on October 23, 2015

Drinking a lot of liquid before bed almost always gives me extremely weird dreams about severe difficulty finding a private and/or clean toilet (they are often located on stadium seats for some reason and overflowing - uck)

Oh man, me too.

I had violent, terrifying nightmares most of my life, like hand to hand combat with hoarded of zombies nightmares. As an adult I finally realized that overheating and having to pee are my nightmare triggers. Taking care of those causes has eliminated 90% of my nightmares. So easy. So much better.
posted by pennypiper at 8:29 AM on October 24, 2015

If you are open to a med but don't want to try an antidepressant yet, perhaps a beta blocker could help. They are adrenaline antagonists, so blood pressure meds like propanalol or clonidine are sometimes prescribed for this, especially the physical manifestations of anxiety. If you took it before bed, it might help with your symptoms while sleeping.

If you have the means to get one, a sleep study is a good idea even if you don't have apnea. They can chart a lot about your sleep that way, including if you're not getting proper oxygen, which can wreck mental health.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:36 PM on October 24, 2015

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