I'm having bad dreams on most mornings, shortly before waking
September 6, 2017 4:29 PM   Subscribe

A change in my sleeping habits has caused an unexpected side effect: I now have bad dreams almost every morning, shortly before I wake up.

My wife and I used to wake up at roughly the same time. But about a year ago, her schedule changed, and she now gets up significantly earlier than I do. When she gets out of bed, I usually wake up briefly and then go back to sleep for about another 90 minutes, before my alarm wakes me.

I've always had a tendency towards having bad dreams, but now I'm getting them virtually every morning. My dreams are not usually horrible nightmares (though I do sometimes experience those). Rather, most of my dreams involve frustrating situations. For example, I have to take an important exam, but I've forgotten the room number, and I'm running around a huge building looking for the proper room. I never experience dreams that are positive or neutral. They're all shades of bad.

It's unpleasant to start the day by waking up with vague memories of disturbing dreams. This happens to me on more than half the days, though I can't always remember specifics of the dreams.

I'm tempted to just start getting up at the same time as my wife, but she seems to require much less sleep than I do, so I'm not sure that I'd be able to stick to her schedule for longer than a few days.
posted by alex1965 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can try lucid dreaming methods to control your dreams. (Disclaimer: it's more work than it's worth, for most people.)

It's possible that there's something in your environment that's setting off an unhappy mood at about the same time each day, and that's hitting your just-pre-awake state in a way that sets off bad dreams. (This might even be, "wife is not here and now I'm getting worried.") Maybe try changing something in your surroundings - something like having pleasant low-volume music on a timer half an hour before your alarm goes off.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:43 PM on September 6, 2017

I routinely used to have all sorts of dreams like you describe: rushing to catch trains/flights; having a meeting but am lost in the hotel; all ready to go but can't find my shoes; etc.

Now that I'm retired, you know how often I have those dreams? Never.

You should consider that stress may be affecting your sleep.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:44 PM on September 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

This happens to me when I'm stressed or burning out. I always wake up a few times a night, though. If a particular problem is bothering me, I've actually found it useful, as I'll usually wind up dreaming about it and trying various approaches in my dreams to solve the problem. I've done this as long as I can remember (it's how I'd solve tricky math problems or essays in highschool), so I'm not sure if I can really tell you how to get there.

If it's a more generalized burning out (so I get the old forgot to complete a final project in school, teeth are falling out), it's a sign I need to take a vacation day. If I can't take one, I try to treat myself in some way: nice dinner out, massage, favorite foods and Netflix binge
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:17 PM on September 6, 2017

I read about some studies that showed that nature sounds can reduce anxious dream and lead to a better night's sleep. I can't find any reference, here's one on nature sounds reducing anxiety in people on a ventilator. Personally, listening to nature sounds when i go to sleep does seems to reduce by early morning anxiety dreams, hours later. Anyway, my suggestion would be to have something with pleasant natural sounds that your wife can turn on when she gets up that would be running during those extra 90 minutes of sleep.
posted by metahawk at 5:25 PM on September 6, 2017

This happens to me too! I rarely remember having pleasant or even neutral dreams, but almost every morning if I fall back asleep after waking all or partway, I have vivid unpleasant anxiety nightmares (terribly late, lost something important, thrust into a difficult situation, people maliciously refuse to help me).

Are you anxious or unhappy about something in your life?

I've had these dreams since grade school and they get worse during stressful times. I visibly belong to a stigmatized racial group and I think in my case these dreams are a side effect of minority stress.

One more data point- Ayurvedic theories about dreams. Not sure how much I believe in Auryveda but I found it interesting that one "type" is described as having a lot of unpleasant dreams.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:59 PM on September 6, 2017

I have this too, especially if a few hours earlier I was really awake suddenly even just for a bit. It's horrible, like my brain is desperately trying to regain its sleep equilibrium by forcing itself back into R.E.M.

I would consider waking up when your wife does and not going back to sleep. It will require an adjustment period for sure, but it is that waking up that I think is really wrecking your sleep hormones and throwing you into nightmare land.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:04 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree that so many bad dreams are likely to be a sign of stress in your life. Getting less sleep is not going to help you feel less stressed - just the opposite. Can you go to bed earlier so you can get up at the same time as your wife without getting less sleep?
posted by Redstart at 6:34 PM on September 6, 2017

This may not be the case for you but darn near 100% of my bad dreams are caused by me getting cold while sleeping. I wake up from a rip roaring nightmare and discover that I'm freezing. So maybe consider whether there's something physical happening related to your wife getting out of bed?
posted by telepanda at 7:18 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is just a thing that happens to me any time I wake up briefly after a night of sleep and fall back to sleep deeply enough to dream—those dreams are reliably the worst. I have some low-grade mental health and sleep problems, but they're pretty well managed.

What if you tried getting out of bed for a minute when your wife gets up, but then going back to bed? You could make it a coffee nap, if you drink coffee.
posted by clavicle at 8:01 PM on September 6, 2017

I have had recurring issues with nightmares in the past. Fortunately, there are a few things that can help!

Benadryl can sometimes knock your brain into deep sleep faster. Just the regular two pills. Though, I suspect that part of this is simply that it clears your airways a bit, and makes oxygen get to the brain more readily.

There are also medications that specifically address nightmares now. I...sadly cannot recall the name of this specific drug, but I know it was a blood pressure medication, and then soldiers taking it reported that it stopped there night terrors. For about 6 months, I needed it for trauma related nightmares. In time, my brain learned to handle sleep in a healthier way. The one MAJOR side effect, and this is a big one, is that it can make waking up at night dangerous. Since you have low blood pressure, it...can be hard to control your body. It can feel like being drunk. So if you already have blood pressure issues, or need to be up and going at a moments notice...not a good choice.

I am sorry I cannot give you the name of this drug, but if these nightmares are affecting your daily life, perhaps it would be good to discuss options with your GP. If nothing else, it would be good to update your sleep hygiene, or see if there is something in your bedroom contributing to stress.
posted by Rosengeist at 8:23 PM on September 6, 2017

Maybe after your wife wakes you, try listening to a pleasant audiobook or podcast as you fall back asleep? There's evidence that your mindset going into sleep affects character of your dreams.
posted by mrmurbles at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2017

I get like this if I get too warm. Is your wife altering the heating/cooling in the house when she gets up? Also your biorhythms could be thinking you're getting up as you've woken up so you're now running at a higher body heat than you did during the night when in deeper sleep.

How long is she up & moving around before heading out? It could just be your brain trying to process the noises it's hearing of her getting ready. Some sort of white noise machine might help, she could switch it on when she gets up.
posted by wwax at 8:45 PM on September 6, 2017

I'd try listening to soothing music, a quiet podcast, white noise (I like the Calm app) a sleep story (Calm has these too), or something else when you're going back to sleep to see if you can shift your brain's focus away from the dreams.

Just to be clear, are you waking up naturally before the alarm goes off? Or are you being awakened by the alarm?

If it's the latter, it's possible that you're being awoken in a deep REM state, which is really disconcerting. You might try a sleep tracker app like Sleep Cycle to see what sleep phase you're in when you're waking up.
posted by radioamy at 9:21 PM on September 6, 2017

I occasionally have bouts of stress dreams, and I finally correlated them to periods where I was having breathing problems while I slept (snoring due to bad head position/weight gain etc.). When I adapt my sleep position so I can breathe better the stress dreams stop.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:05 PM on September 6, 2017

This happens to me too. I agree that these are stress dreams, and that you may want to look at ways to reduce your overall stress levels during the day.

However. When I lived with a partner who got up much earlier than I did, they would wake me up getting out of bed and getting ready in our room. The sounds would low-key irritate / frustrate me as I would try to fall asleep again, and *boom* stress dreams would happen. I am a light sleeper, and can get hyper-vigilant if I'm listening to something that is disturbing my sleep, which I'm sure didn't help.

If that maps to your experience, see if your wife can switch to a wearable vibration alarm, get out of bed as gently as possible and get ready in some other area of the house. May not be doable for your situation, but I had my partner do this and my last REM cycle was much calmer.
posted by ananci at 10:42 PM on September 6, 2017

How long are your sleep cycles? Mine are 3 hours, so 90 minutes sounds awful to me. I'd be in the midst of dreaming too, and it's not surprising that you're stressed because a part of you knows your alarm will go off soon.

Things you could try:
- shift your sleep schedule to match your wife's (waking up together sounds like it was lovely and you may be missing this)
- get up and go to the gym or enjoy a hobby you might usually take up in the evenings
- find a guided meditation - I like Jason Stephenson on YouTube - that lasts an hour. I do this midday sometimes when I don't want to nap for 3 hours but I can't stay awake. I also allow myself to fall asleep and don't worry as much about doing meditation right
- try going to sleep 1-2 hours earlier - if you're in a different part of your sleep cycle, you may not stir when your wife gets up
posted by A hidden well at 3:36 AM on September 7, 2017

Are you taking melatonin? It gave me absolutely horrible nightmares, a side effect that was noted as possible on the bottle. I was trying to avoid prescription sleepers, but ultimately agreed to low-dose Ambien. Fortunately, it has worked consistently well, and has never had that side effect.

I've also noted that sleeping lightly after being sort of awakened when cityboy leaves for work about an hour and a half before I arise can also lead to vivid dreaming, often unpleasant enough to wake me. If your wife could try especially hard not to wake you in the morning that might help not disturb your sleep cycle.
posted by citygirl at 6:50 AM on September 7, 2017

Try switching to lighter blankets when your wife gets up, as you may be overheating after you go back to sleep. Your body temperature needs to drop for you to sleep, and to sleep well. It may be that when your wife gets up your body gets the signal that it is morning and raises your internal temperature. So you might want to switch from sleeping under the blankets to just sleeping under a throw when she gets up.

And your wife might be willing to uncover and recover you in something lighter as she gets up, so you don't have to wake up to make the blanket change yourself.

You could also try to reset your sleep schedule so that you are at the end of a sleep cycle when she gets up, rather than in the middle of one. You can do this either by estimating how many sleep cycles you can fit in before her alarm goes and going to bed earlier or later, or you can tell yourself before you fall asleep that you will be waking up at the time when her alarm goes, so you need to be awake, and by repeating the time to yourself and that it is important a few times each evening as your drift off, prime your subconscious to make your sleep cycles stretch or shrink enough that you are more in synch with your wife's schedule. It's not that you have to actually get up, it's just that your subconscious has to know that is the waking time between periods of sleep.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:07 AM on September 7, 2017

For what it's worth I also experience worse dreams if I've woken up early in the morning and then fallen back asleep. Unfortunately for me that is now most days, given that I have toddler children.

I would recommend adjusting your schedule to your wife's wake up time, if you can, even if it means going to bed much earlier.
posted by lydhre at 10:38 AM on September 7, 2017

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