Stop me dreaming about toilets
April 16, 2018 12:55 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy dreaming but I almost always spend a significant portion of my dream-time involved in terribly stressful scenarios involving toilets that have no doors, are disgustingly filthy or overflowing, are lacking toilet paper or non-functional in any number of other horrifying ways. How can I stop this?

My visit can involve any of the various reasons a grown woman might be visiting a toilet and the toilet can be gross/non-functional in all those ways. There may be other people around or not but there's usually an aspect of lack of privacy. There can be a lot of crossover with stressful dreams about being naked from the waist down. Almost all of my dreams include these scenarios to a greater or lesser extent.

On waking I usually need to pee but not with any sense of urgency or unusually full bladder compared to a nights sleep where I don't dream. I try to limit liquids before bed, am well peed before sleeping and fall asleep quickly. That this is such a recurring thing for me is quite upsetting as the dreams are quite vivid and it's gross and stressful. In my waking life I suffer from anxiety but it is under much better control now than previously (but the dreams are more common now?!). I don't take any medications or have any particular health conditions and I sleep with my partner.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Any chance you have an upset stomach, reflux or ate foods that cause acidy stomach? If so maybe try some kind of acid reducer that works for you for a week or so and see if the dreams go away with that. Or maybe probiotics would help your gut too.
Red wine also gives me crazy dreams and wakes me up at night. As it did right now. Even 1 glass of tannic stuff will do it and I keep forgetting this lesson. Really hoppy or sour beers really upset my stomach too.
Caffeine could also be a consideration.
posted by littlewater at 1:49 AM on April 16, 2018

Maybe these dreams will either stop or become easier to deal with once you figure out what they mean. The toilet might not represent a literal toilet, it might mean that you have something on your mind or in your life that you need to get rid of.

The dreams might be a tool that you're using to deal with the anxiety. If that is the case, it could make sense that they occur at a time when your anxiety seems to be under better control.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:02 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would interpret that dream to mean there's a secret or something else you're embarrassed about or are concerned others will find out about. I'm not sure there's much you can do about that besides ponder it.

In terms of the practical, this sleep hypnosis app has a free sleep recording. Maybe listening to it with headphones as you fell asleep and thus falling asleep in a different way could help you break the recurring dream cycle.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 AM on April 16, 2018

I had distressing repetitive dreams about intimate domestic spaces and I now have no doubt they represented the tension between my unconscious experiences and my conscious expression about an intimate aspect of my life. Mine didn't end until I removed myself from the locus of the underlying tension and I didn't fully understand them until later than that.

Yours are similar to mine except they have the added qualities of lack of privacy and a disrespected environment with potential for disgust. If I was a dream decoder, I would posit that there is an aspect of your life that you subconsciously feel has invaded your privacy and neglected your visceral needs in some intimate physical form.
posted by Thella at 3:58 AM on April 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I used to have stressful dreams all the time. Now a dog sleeps on the pillow next to me most nights.

Critters make for good stress reducers. Much better than humans ime.
posted by phunniemee at 4:45 AM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Stress dreams like this are often not about the thing they’re about, they’re about the fear of asking for help or being seen in a vulnerable state. There’s often a sense of shame and a feeling of being trapped or paralyzed, like you can’t let anyone find out that the toilet is unusable.

I used to have recurring stress dreams along similar lines (teeth falling out, naked in public, back in school but I don’t know anyone and have forgotten to go to all my classes) and at some point I started solving them in the dream (call the dentist, notice that no one is looking at me, remember I already graduated and can leave). Try thinking of ways your dream-self can handle a gross toilet situation without escalating the grossness; probably the easiest way is to leave the bathroom and alert whoever’s in charge of maintenance. If you can get over that fear of acting or asking in your dream, the toilets will get less daunting.

Think about what’s keeping you frozen with fear or embarrassment in your waking life, too. Improving your conscious skills for working with anxiety will reflect in your dreams.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:00 AM on April 16, 2018 [11 favorites]

Wake up and go to the bathroom. You're dreaming this because you have to pee.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:20 AM on April 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I have the exact same recurring dream!

The only things I can think of that could help would be :

1) Take a long walk before bed.
2) Sleep with the windows open (it always changes my dreams)
3) Smoke some pot before bed
4) Get a humidifier . the sound is soothing
posted by winterportage at 5:23 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have this too, it's a pretty common dream I think (weak bladder and I often have to wee at night). I would see it as a positive thing if you can, and a sign that your subconscious loves and cares for you and wants to make sure you don't wet the bed by preventing you from weeing in your dream. Personally I don't there's much more to it than that. So, the only way to stop it is to wake up and go for a wee.

However, I appreciate when you are having the dream it's not so nice. Can you have a go at lucid dreaming a bit and controlling what happens when you come across a gross toilet - maybe imagining a giant toilet brush that turns into a pole so you can vault out of the whole situation?

Also practically speaking although you are restricting liquids at bedtime make sure you get enough during the day, because if your urine is a bit concentrated it can make you want to wee even if there isn't much in there.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 5:32 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I agree with bile and syntax, I have very similar dreams (and I had NO IDEA other ppl dreamed these) and it is almost always because I have to pee.
posted by leesh at 5:33 AM on April 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

Correlation does not equal causation: I've woken up to pee in the middle of the night ever since I can recall (I'm now in my 40s), and never dream about it.

It's a common stress/anxiety dream, though. Check out what's been said upthread about possible interpretations, and yeah, it's also common to start having different sorts of anxiety dreams when you're dealing better with anxiety – it can also be a positive sign in that you do indeed recognize something's awry.
posted by fraula at 5:48 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wonder if lucid dreaming might be worth a try. Once when I was a kid, before I ever heard of lucid dreaming, I had a nightmare about being surrounded by crocodiles. I somehow became aware it was a dream, took control of the dream plot and escaped.

This seems not terribly different from lucid dreaming, and might be a way to get control of these bad dreams.
posted by bunderful at 5:55 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had recurring nightmares as a teenager, and I was able to stop them through a sort of lucid dreaming. They involved being chased by vampires, so for a few weeks, I would rehearse ways to defeating vampires as I lay in bed falling asleep - stake to the heart, garlic, they can't cross running water, etc, etc. It didn't work for several dreams, but eventually, my dream self discovered what is possibly the stupidest way ever to thwart the bloodsuckers: I ran into the bathroom, wedged myself between the wall and the toilet, and started flushing. The vampires couldn't reach across the "running water" to grab me and left me alone. The dreams immediately stopped, almost completely. I've had the dream again once or twice in the past 20+ years, and I always end up beating the vampires, even without rehearsing beforehand.

In your case, I might rehearse having a secret stash of cleaning products in my backpack, or knowing about a secret, less public bathroom somewhere, or whatever else might solve the problems your dreamself is having most commonly. Good luck.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:13 AM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I used to have these exact dreams all the time, and actually became impressed by how many bizarre and disgusting public bathrooms my subconscious was able to create. In my case I think it was very much related to the lack of control I had over my surroundings and my life in general as the parent of two small high-needs children. Basically I spent much of my life with no choice but to do things I didn't really want to be doing, and that carried into my dreams.

They didn't go away until my life started sucking less. However, they didn't really stress me out; like my life, it was a disgusting slog that I just had to get through. Sometimes I just gave up and didn't give a damn in my dream; "hey, if there's poop all over the floor anyway and no privacy, I might as well drop trou in the cleanest corner of the place to avoid venturing to the even grosser toilets." If your life situation is somewhat similar to how mine was and there's no reasonable way to improve it, it's possible that developing more acceptance for your lot might help? Even if the dreams go away, they might stop bothering you if you're feeling less anxious within them.
posted by metasarah at 6:16 AM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have these often. They’re always in the early morning and always tied to having to pee.
posted by PussKillian at 6:17 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

My problem dream doesn't happen as often as yours but some of the answers to my question might be useful.
I'm having the dreams less, I think thanks to the suggestions, and am caring less during the dream when they happen. If I had dreams like yours I think I'd go straight for trying to lucid dream or wake myself up if that doesn't improve the situation. If you can remember, try to look at your hands in the dream, then start trying to control it.
posted by sacchan at 6:47 AM on April 16, 2018

I have these dreams too, and it's totally anxiety-related for me. I don't have a good solution except that running (or I'm sure any vigorous exercise) has helped a lot with both the active anxiety and the weird dreams (well, they've improved from gross bathrooms/lack of privacy to missing a flight, which is a substantial improvement in stress dreams, at least for me).
posted by snaw at 6:55 AM on April 16, 2018

I've had plenty of dreams where I'm peeing, or looking for a restroom, and then wake up with my bladder too full, but the dreams have never been remotely horrifying or upsetting.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 6:57 AM on April 16, 2018

When you get into bed, before you fall asleep, suggest to yourself that you have the power to fix the stressful dream situation. For instance, "Simply by snapping my fingers, I can transform the most gross toilet into the coolest, most functional toilet in the world." Or, more generally, "I am king of the universe and can magically solve any stressful situation that happens in my dreams." What I have found is that, if I do this with a modicum of false faith, the stressful dream situation ceases to come up at all. YMMV
posted by jabah at 6:58 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Stop drinking before bed.

Your brain is going I need to pee but can't & is working that into your dreams.
posted by wwax at 7:17 AM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have been researching Jungian dream analysis, and I've found that by taking time to understand my recurring dreams they usually dissipate.

The way I did it was to recognize that the meaning of a symbol in my dreams was unique to me and my own subconscious. You mentioned a general feeling of a lack of privacy in these dreams. How might you be feeling that in your own life, or even in your mental life? Some Jungian dream analysts advocate for writing down the symbols that appear, and then sort of free-associating. What do you feel when in the toilet in these dreams? What does the dirtiness add to that feeling?

My recurring dreams are always travel related. I have learned that my unconscious mind uses airports and trains and travel to symbolize my progress toward goals. I often am left delayed or lost, or somehow powerless in these travel scenarios, and that mirrors how I feel about my life's direction at times.

Your unconscious uses symbols that only you can decipher, so focus on the feelings that the images and scenarios conjure, and remember that your mind is telling you a story about itself. It's illustrating what is going on inside.
posted by Dr_Janeway at 7:41 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m all in favor of psychological dream interpretation, but when I have this one it’s because I need to pee and my brain is trying to prevent me from wetting the bed.
posted by matildaben at 8:14 AM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

So I mentioned to my therapist that I had a recurrent dream a bit like this (except I'm driving a car in heavy traffic at extreme speed and am lying down or otherwise operating the car from the back seat, which is obvs super anxiety provoking) where the symbolism was more evident.

I didn't expect a solution but she made me do this slightly 'woo' guided meditation thing where she helped me use the lucid dream to give myself back the agency and create a way of controlling the situation.

So assuming you're not dreaming this because you need to pee (I certainly wasn't dreaming it because I was driving a car with my eyes closed), maybe grab a couple of sessions with some external help, to guide you through controlling the dreams.
posted by citands at 8:29 AM on April 16, 2018

I have had this same recurring scenario. It's been a while since I remember having this dream, but it does come and go. Although I wouldn't deny that needing to pee could cause bathroom dreams, the circumstances of this particular scenario (exposure, lack of privacy, inability to find suitable or clean facilities) mean to me that this has a deeper meaning. In my case I interpreted it as being unable to express myself, of being stuck and frantically looking for a safe way to "get it out".
posted by achrise at 9:51 AM on April 16, 2018

Similarly, I have dreams of no-doors-on-these-stalls! and two-toilets-side-by-side! and other such horrors. For me, I think they represent the feeling of a lack of privacy in my life. I need a significant amount of alone time, and I feel like I'm constantly surrounded by people who (either intentionally or unintentionally) are crossing my personal boundaries. So therefore in the dreams, I'm "naked" or otherwise vulnerable, or I'm in need of some bodily privacy and I can't get it. Maybe you are too?
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:43 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have also had success with "rehearsing" a strategy before falling asleep. In my case I was dreaming about being really tired at work. So I told myself that if I really needed to, I could curl up on the floor and just go to sleep. It took a couple nights of practice, and then the problem went away. I have also been successful training to myself to wake up from a scary dream. Perhaps in your case, you want to imagine a team of cleaners following you, or the power to levitate while peeing, or owning a personal cloaking device... just imagine the whole scenario vividly before falling asleep.

But I do agree with others that you should be really sure that it's not just a sign that you have to pee.
posted by MangoNews at 11:42 AM on April 16, 2018

I have these exact dreams! And those driving the car from the backseat dreams? I have those too! They're an anxiety manifestation (obvs) and dealing with them has been a combination for me of

- managing anxiety in my day to day life particularly getting a lot of exercise so I am tired out
- trying to get better at waking up if I have to pee (usually one trigger is having a fullish bladder)
- a little lucid dreaming practice so asleep me can be like "this is messed up and not real time to change the scenery..."
- not letting them bother me. I realize this is easier said than done but when I wake up, the bathrooms in my life are nice and normal and I do not have any bathroom issues to speak of so there is a quick reassurance "Wow that was super messed up, glad I live in the Real World of Decent Bathrooms"

Sometimes when I manage my anxiety better outwardly, there's some inward shit that decides "hey now is a good time to leak out" so having these dreams, while disturbing, really might be a good sign albeit not reassuring to you. I wish you luck working this out.
posted by jessamyn at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2018

I always have these dreams when I have to pee, and only when I have to pee. I thought it was just me. I don't even think about it anymore; I have the dream, I get up and pee, and go back to a sleep that doesn't include dreams about filthy toilets in stalls with no doors.
posted by ceejaytee at 2:01 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have dreams about tornadoes whenever things in my life are feeling out of control. Little teeny tornadoes, big tornadoes, tornadoes that are somehow 10 feet away but don’t wreck anything or suck me up into them, discussion of tornadoes that have not yet arrived. I also have the dreams about driving extremely fast in crazy road conditions (in mine, the road has crazy steep grades and turns like a rollercoaster) or my car getting stolen (I am especially fond of my car and also prize my independence).

These dreams used to be more disturbing, but once I consciously clocked the specific messages that these dreams symbolically represented, they became less so. Now, whenever I dream about a tornado or my car getting stolen, I wind up dreaming the practical next step—I go inside, or I find a dealership and buy a new car. Which is still boring and a hassle (who wants to dream about calling their insurance agent and filling out paperwork?!) but I don’t wake up feeling wound up over it. Similarly, when I find myself dreaming that I’m working as a cashier again in my teenage retail job, those dreams have morphed over the years to where now I just finish out my shift and quit, or if I’m scheduled, I just ignore it and don’t show up. *laugh* (Sorry, dream TJ Maxx.)

If you spend some time reflecting on what exactly you’re feeling anxious about and how you mitigate those issues in real life, that may carry over into your dreams so that, even if the dreams don’t stop, they won’t be so disruptive. And maybe write down a quick journal about when you have these dreams and what’s going on in your life at the time, so you can see if there’s a correlation to anything. These dreams can be a pretty useful early-warning system where your brain is Iike “Hey, you’re doing that thing again”. Ideally, you can get to a point where you can connect the dots, and tell yourself, “Toilet dream again! Better make sure I remember to make that appointment and take care of those things I’d been putting off.”
posted by Autumnheart at 4:44 PM on April 16, 2018

My dreams about toilets are just about needed to wake up and go pee but I have other recurring anxiety dreams that tap into the symbolism that resonates with my own subconscious.
One that I find really helps when I wake up from a bad dream is to let myself "finish" the dream - imagining myself doing whatever I need to do to get out of the situation and into a happier place. Doing that in bed, half awake, seemed to replace the emotional impact of whatever I woke up with the new experience that I was imagining/directing so that I was starting my day (or going back to sleep) from a better place.

Kind of like lucid dreaming but after the fact instead of trying to get inserted into the actual dream.
posted by metahawk at 4:58 PM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

This sounds psychological and I can't help with that, came here to say I don't take B vitamins or eat foods high in B vitamins after about three o'clock or I will have dreams all night.
2) I have read that to smell roses while you sleep activates the part of the brain that gives you good dreams. Study.

I just thought of something - what if you are smelling something you don't realize - sewage - and it is so slight you only smell it sub-consciously? In your dreams?

Bad neighbors who don't clean? Neighbors with a new baby and diapers piling up? That would be bad if you sleep with your window open.
posted by cda at 5:25 PM on April 16, 2018

* I have no sense of smell but I dreamt about a skunk one night and I got up and there was a skunk in my front yard. I don't even know what a skunk smells like.
posted by cda at 5:29 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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