Can nightmares be caused by the need to urinate?
December 14, 2005 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Can nightmares be caused by having to use the bathroom?

When I'd have nightmares as a child, my mother would tell me that it was caused by having to use the bathroom. This helped me be less afraid in the middle of the night, because I would often notice that yes, I often did have to use the bathroom after I woke up from a nightmare. I was also encouraged to avoid drinking too much water before bedtime.

Now as an adult, I have some pretty freaky nightmares from time to time, and when I wake up I often notice that I have to go to the bathroom. Is there anything to this, or am I just looking for a connection where there is none? Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?
posted by jojopizza to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
I've never heard that, but I think that when you wake up in the middle of the night, it's usually because you have to use the bathroom, and that the dreams you remember are usually the ones you were having right before you wake up.

I've often had dreams of using the bathroom before I woke up needing to go.
posted by leapingsheep at 9:40 AM on December 14, 2005

Response by poster: Well, at least a couple of times a year I have nightmares so disturbing I wake up, and am fairly freaked out upon waking. I often have to use the bathroom when that happens.

Other times I'll just roll over and notice I have to use the bathroom, no nightmare. So my mother's theory would have it that having to use the bathroom sometimes, but not always, causes nightmares.
posted by jojopizza at 9:55 AM on December 14, 2005

Sex dreams can be caused by a full bladder. I know this only anecdotally, of course.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:57 AM on December 14, 2005

I know exactly what you mean. When I was little, I used to wet the bed and then over time I trained myself so that when I'm sleeping my body will trigger a dream which could be about anything, but at some point in the dream I would somehow find my way to the bathroom to go tinkle. Once that happened I'd wake up and realize that I had to get up and go for real.

Still happens to this day. It's really weird because in my dreams, it's always the bathroom of the house I grew up in even though that was well over 10 years ago and I now live 1600 miles away.
posted by SoulOnIce at 9:58 AM on December 14, 2005

I think leapingsheep's pretty close. Generally you have far more dreams than you remember. Dreams generally occur (or whatever, IANAN) in short-term memory. This is also why even after you wake up, you can't recall your dreams very accurately for more than a couple hours. If you don't wake up during (or immediately after) the dream, you won't remember it at all. The fact that pressing bathroom needs are probably a vast majority of the causes for waking up, it's not surprising that most times you wake up in the middle of a bad dream this is also true.

Start keeping track of every time you wake up:
* Was I having a dream?
* Was I having a bad dream?
* Did I wake up because I had to go to the bathroom?

I'll bet you'll find that the percentage of bad dreams that correlate with having to go the bathroom is very close to the percentage of non-bad dreams that correlate with having to go to the bathroom.
posted by Plutor at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2005

I have lengthy, boring dreams where I am looking for a bathroom, usually in a crowded public place, and any available facilities are either out of order or not as private as I would demand. They are by no means nightmarish, nor sexy.
posted by matildaben at 10:04 AM on December 14, 2005

IMHO, I think gas sometimes produces those anxiety filled nightmares. Wake up, fart, have a restful sleep.
posted by MrMulan at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2005

Personally, I get nightmares when I eat before bed
posted by poppo at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2005

Gas Poppo, just gas.
posted by MrMulan at 10:15 AM on December 14, 2005

I'm with poppo.
posted by alms at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2005

Snoopy also has nightmares if he eats before bed, especially Pizza.
posted by Good Brain at 10:54 AM on December 14, 2005

Gas or no gas, I don't eat before bed anymore!!!
posted by poppo at 10:54 AM on December 14, 2005

I wish to echo the sentiment "especially pizza"
posted by poppo at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2005

I have nightmares if I go to sleep with a headache. And I always have to go to the bathroom when I wake up, no matter how disturbing or wonderful my dreams were.
posted by amro at 11:14 AM on December 14, 2005

i get nightmares pretty frequently - 4 or 5 times a week, sometimes a few a night.
i don't eat before i go to bed (usually 4-5 hours before going to bed) and i don't have a bathroom issue when i wake up from nightmares.

then again this has been an issue since my teenage this is probably just me and my head.
posted by grafholic at 11:16 AM on December 14, 2005

Whenever I dream of urinating, I am also usually simultaneously having a ... um ... a nocturnal emission. Happens when I have to urinate for real and urinate in my dream. Kinda like bedwetting but with .. uh ... the other stuff.
Sorry not a helpful answer
posted by Makebusy7 at 11:47 AM on December 14, 2005

There's something to it, yeah. A friend's daughter transferred this through some mechanism such that she used to be afraid of toilets and still is afraid of bathroom-related functions while awake. Or so I'm told.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2005

There's an old neurological adage: 95% of all neurology happens on the way to, in, or on the way back from the toilet.

Hope this helps. :)
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:41 PM on December 14, 2005

I always have to pee when I have a nightmare. And it's not just that I happen to wake up. I have a lot of lucid dreams, including nightmares, and I usually wake myself up from the nightmares and I always have to pee.
posted by lobakgo at 3:25 PM on December 14, 2005

Nightmares can cause you to have to pee. The physiological arousal of a terrifying situation can cause all sorts of autonomic responses, including urination or increased pressure to urinate. On an instinctual level, the biological/evolutionary reason to "piss yourself" from fright derives from the desire to lighten the body for maximum running speed.

I do not know of any research showing that pressure in your bladder can trigger that kind of amygdalar activity. The only case I can think of would be if you had some horrific childhood trauma that made you afraid to urinate. In the case of childhood maltreatment, specifically a parent who beat their child as a method of toilet training, I could see this happening.

My advice is to take care to pee before you go to bed; not because having to pee will cause nightmares, but because you seem to be more sensitive to the instinct to pee yourself from fear. Yes, that's my semi-professional opinion. Otherwise, don't let it worry you. You'll lose more sleep than warranted.
posted by Eideteker at 4:42 PM on December 14, 2005

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