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The Vine: February 5, 2014

Submitted by on February 5, 2014 – 2:49 PM41 Comments

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Anxiety dreams. I have them.

To clear out the obvious: No, I have no idea what I'm anxious about, and while I'm willing to hit up therapy if it comes to that, I have to jump through so many hoops to get my insurance to play ball that I'd prefer to go the self-help route first. Which is why I'm here.

There's no set recurring dream; one night, it's My Car Has No Brakes, the next, it's a double feature of Mean Girls Ganging Up On Me and Walking Past The Stove Somehow Set the House On Fire, the next it's I Am Improperly Dressed For This Funeral During Which I Am Expecting An Important Phone Call For Which I Am Unprepared. Term papers, nudity, and missing teeth have yet to make an appearance, but there's always tonight.

For the record, I don't drive and my husband's car is in fine shape; there aren't really any mean girls in my life right now; my stove was just fixed and I wasn't even worried about it when it was broken; there are no upcoming funerals, knock wood, and I have acceptable clothes for them just in case; I am not expecting any important phone calls in the near future. So it's all straight-up, inexplicable anxiety.

This, of course, results in a crappy night's sleep, plus the fun experience of starting the day after eight hours of Everyone Hates Me And I Fail At Life. And like any toxic message, the more I hear it (every night in my dreams!) the more I believe it, so my brain needs to knock it off right now.

So, do you or the Nationals have any advice, short of therapy (which, again, keeping in my back pocket just in case), for how to have happy dreams, or at least bounce back from the messed up ones?

Thanks,
Too Tired To Come Up With A Clever Sign-Off

Dear Tired,

Let's start with a couple of the usual physical suspects. When do you stop drinking caffeine for the day? Yes, diet Coke "counts," and yes, it can affect you and your sleep patterns even if you don't consciously feel "awake" when you get in bed. What's your alcohol-consumption pattern — do you have a couple glasses of wine with dinner? When do you eat dinner? All of that stuff — the afternoon latte, eating within three hours of when you usually go to sleep, red wine (at least for me, I wake up three hours after going to sleep if I've had Malbec that night) — doesn't just affect your falling asleep, but your staying asleep and the quality of that sleep.

So, lock down your sleep routine for starters. Eat earlier, make sure you go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day (even weekends), cut out coffee after lunch and booze entirely for a week or two.

That should let you feel a little bit more in control of the situation, because the dreams have to do with control…and I suspect they've started to feed on themselves as a source of anxiety. Some little damn thing annoyed you, like in a parking lot or something, that you didn't register as causing you agita, and it happened weeks ago, and your brain squirreled it away and then rolled that nut across the floor of your midnight brain, and you were like, henh? And the anxiety dream disturbed you in your waking life, and sort of led to another one the next night or two nights later. And now every night when you go to bed, you worry that you'll have another one…and then you do. (Or you don't, and: confirmation bias.)

Put a notebook and a pen next to your bed, and start to think of the dreams as an interesting subject of anthropological study until they go away (and they will, don't worry). Write down everything you can remember, even if it doesn't seem symbolically important, and then either try to go back to sleep or, if you're wide awake, get up out of bed and go do something else so you don't associate your bedroom with emotional discomfort. Leaf through a catalog, listen to Lord Kenneth Clark talk about art, whatever you like.

Patterns will emerge. Those patterns will put you in mind of other things that might not seem relevant, but as my own therapist says, "If you thought to mention it, it means something." Document everything. Mutter aloud to yourself in an unflappable British accent while you write if it makes you feel better, but try to feel curious and interested in why your brain is doing this and what it's trying to tell you (which, again, is maybe just random neuronal firing, or environmental "it's too hot in here" shit poorly translated by your subconscious as Iss-Yews) ("neuronal" is a word, right?). Look at it as an opportunity and not some dire pain in the ass.

And learn to nap. A 20-minute power snooze cures a lot of ills.

If all else fails, you always have counseling as a fallback, but until then, write everything down, try to have a little fun with it even, and remember: everyone in your dreams and any houses or structures are you. (Note: I am not a licensed therapist.) (Hee. Sleep well-ish, and let us know how it's going!)

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41 Comments »

  • Sarah says:

    You might also find Rescue Remedy to be very helpful here. Get it at your favorite natural foods or Whole Foods store, do the dropper full in some water before bed. Like Sars said, something set it off, and now it is needling at you all night long. Something that helps you to relax (plus all of the good advice above about sleep habits) might be a difference maker.

    If you want to go the pharmaceutical route, ask for your doc for some xanax or ativan to take the edge off. Xanax never made me sleepy, but my mom and I used to say it makes the world pretty, relaxing colors and somehow you can sleep better.

  • Molly says:

    How in control do you feel about things in various areas of your life? The "brakes don't work"/"whoops I just drove this car off a cliff" dreams happen for me when I'm feeling kind of powerless about something going on in my life. You mentioned that you don't drive, for example. In some cities that could mean that you're able to get everywhere you need on your own by public transportation, but in others it could mean that you're dependent on your husband's schedule to go anywhere. I'm not saying that is the particular area you may not feel in control of, but maybe there's something else that strikes a similar chord?

  • Hellcat13 says:

    Oh my god yes with the food. If I eat anything substantial past 8pm, or even just eat a little too much at dinner, I will dream like a mofo. In the past three nights, I've given birth to a baby when I didn't know I was pregnant, I've gone on a date with a boy from high school who I haven't thought of literally since high school (and never had a crush on), and I've hung out at a swimming meet with another guy I barely knew from high school. We didn't have a swim team, I'm swearing off heavy food for a couple of nights. Heh.

    Anyway, I hope it's something simple like this! Good luck.

  • ferretrick says:

    All the suggestions for improving sleep are good, and certainly worth trying to get rid of the dreams, but in the meantime….can't you just make a command decision not to care about the dreams? I mean, I get that you are not getting restful sleep and that is a big problem, I agree. But when you say you are coming to believe the dream's negative messages…why exactly? Hey, I occasionally dream that male cast members of various CW shows are gay and dying to have sex with me, that doesn't make THAT true. I guess I'm in the minority, but I rarely remember my dreams and don't attach much importance to the ones I do. They are just dreams.

    I do think that the dreams are covering up some nagging real life issue, so spend some time writing them down and see if you can identify and resolve the issue so you can get better sleep. But in the meantime, just don't attach so much importance to them, or internalize any of their negative messages.

  • Marian says:

    Tired, how warm is your bedroom? I went through a period of really intense dreams/nightmares a few years ago. A friend suggested I might be overheated while I was sleeping. I removed a heavy blanket from my bed and boom, the dreams stopped. It took a bit of getting used to (I like to burrow under puffy blankets) but the better sleep was worth it.

  • Karen says:

    My recurring anxiety dream involve tunnels. Or shopping malls. Or parking garages. Sometimes canoing through the lakes of Northwestern Ontario (which I've never done!). Or houses that are mine, but are dangerously derelict and that I can never find the door out of. And, without therapy I think I've figured out that they had to do with feeling totally adrift in life, or overwhelmed by what I need to do. The epiphany came after I had started making some sort of long-term, five year plan for what I wanted to do with my life. Then, suddenly, the dream tunnels were less claustrophobic. Or, I could see the exit I needed to get to. Occasionally I had a map! When I start feeling frustrated or blocked by something, or non-participatory in my own life, the dreams come back. All this to say that the dreams might not be a response to something concretely specific.

    Also – pizza for dinner guarantees a terrible, technicolour dream or two for me.

  • Megan says:

    Couple thoughts:

    I often find that I have delayed reactions to stuff. A stressful event happens, finishes and a month later when I am safe and calm, the delayed reaction hits. It may be that you're having anxiety dreams now because it is a safe and quiet time for your brain to process something that happened earlier.

    I have been using (and widely recommending) guided meditations as I fall asleep. I am sure there are many good ones (type "guided meditation" into a search bar), but the first one I found is so very good that I haven't branched out. We listen to Mary and Richard Maddux at Meditation Oasis so much that I'm wondering if we are becoming dependent. Her voice is like cream and her words are soft and gentle and I've never heard more than the first two minutes before I am out like a light. Anyway: free, very accessible, and harmless if it doesn't work.

  • Lulu says:

    I have actually been able to "lucid dream" (control dreams). I stopped doing it because I found it boring–I like dreaming for the most part and the subconscious firing is more interesting than whatever I choose to do when I am in control–but it certainly came in handy when I managed to talk myself down from a panic, mid-nightmare, because I realized that I was in no danger. Just a dream.

    Here's how I did it. I heard this trick on a radio show, and it really works. You train yourself to become aware you are dreaming by occasionally asking yourself (while awake), "Am I dreaming?" Then you think about it and decide whether you are dreaming or not. ("Everything seems pretty solid, things are obeying physical reality, things don't happen just because it occurred to me that they might, when I look away from a book and then look back it's the same text… yep, I'm awake.") Eventually it will become ingrained and you will start to do it in your dreams as a matter of habit. When you become aware that you are in a dream, you can begin to exert control.

    You will still not be at your smartest in the dream, and I found that once I gained control, I didn't have a lot of idea for what to do next. Maybe if you give some thought ahead of time to what you would like to do if you could control your dream–your "happy place"–and that will make it more likely that this will occur to you when you are in the dream.

  • Linda says:

    One thing I do right before bed if I have been feeling anxious or if I have not been sleeping well recently: I have a notebook nearby and before I get in bed, I write down everything I am worried about, stream of consciousness style. No ranking or anything, and they can range widely from big things I have no control over ("My parents getting ill and dying") to littler things ("weird bug bite.") No judgement. Somehow getting that all out soon before bed seems to give my subconscious permission to let it go at least for the night. Like, I wrote it down and acknowledged it, so my brain isn't in charge of running through the list for the while.

    The other thing I found when I was doing that quite regularly is that it sometimes let me know that something little was bothering me, and if it is something I can fix, I fix it. But mostly it is just getting a ball of random worries out to put on hold. Since you aren't aware of any anxiety being present I don't know if it will help you, but it is worth at try!

    I do generally read a few more pages of my book after so the anxiety list it is close to bedtime but not the very last thing I am thinking of.

    Good luck!

  • Yoshi says:

    Second meditation oasis. The damn things work like a charm.

    I got advice many years ago about setting up and sticking to a bedtime routine. Apparently your brain can come to recognise sleep cues and respond appropriately. For me, I make a pot of peppermint tea (no caffeine); then go wash my face and brush my teeth and so forth; then get into bed and have some of the tea while watching something light and relaxing. The whole thing takes about 30-40 minutes, but at the end of that I'm falling asleep and that's that.

    I'd also echo Sars's suggestion about getting up and doing something if you wake from a bad dream. When I have nightmares, I have to do that or else I get sucked right back into the dream when I fall asleep. It sucks because the complete disruption to my sleep means that I lose more sleep time; but it also ensures that the nightmare doesn't start up again, so once I am asleep it's much better sleep.

    I think I typed 'sleep' more in this post than I ever have in my life. Sleep sleep sleep.

  • Emily says:

    This one is easy to check, but any chance you are pregnant? (I am guessing you are a woman based on the content of your letter, but please disregard if you are not!) Pregnancy gives me super weird and intense dreams. The subject matter varies (from really boring dreams where I'm basically just at work to scary nightmares), but the common thread is that they are extremely real feeling and exhausting (nothing like doing spreadsheets ALL NIGHT to make you feel fresh and rested in the morning!)

  • Elizabeth says:

    Contra the first comment, I do NOT recommend taking benzodiazepines unless you have a much better reason (e.g., truly debilitating panic attacks), and then only temporarily. You might be one of the lucky people who have no problem with them (as it sounds like the commenter and her mother are), but you also might be one of the people for whom they cause brain damage. For something as minor as anxiety dreams — and I'm not saying that to pooh-pooh your problem, but just to keep it in perspective relative to the worst-case scenario with the drugs — I strongly feel that it's just not worth the risk.

  • Megan says:

    Oh! Another thought! My friend used to have dreams that he could levitate, but he was annoyed at having boring hovering dreams. So he got wings tattooed on his back! The next time he had a levitation dream, he remembered that he now had wings and this time he could fly.

    Concrete suggestion: awesome tattoo.

  • JC says:

    I have to strongly second what Elizabeth said. I took a benzo for quite a while. It was necessary to combat debilitating panic attacks, but when I stopped taking them, my sleep was profoundly (and negatively) affected. Any medication that interferes with your dreams is actually interfering with your ability to get deep, restful sleep. Something like Ambien is fine for the occasional bout of insomnia, but definitely don't go with Xanax or Ativan. Those are nuclear options, and your body will come to depend on them. You'll be trading one problem for another.

    Sars' advice about eating, caffeine, etc. is a much better place to start.

  • Jane says:

    Other things to consider–I'm suffering an injury that makes my sleep positions uncomfortable, and boy, have my dreams gotten weird! Additionally, I wonder if you might have some night tooth-grinding/jaw-clenching that reinforces the anxiety impulse when you're asleep.

  • Rebecca says:

    Just to check, are you taking any medications? Some people take a med so routinely that it's just part of life and easy to forget about. I'm taking a beta blocker right now that is giving me really weird/vivid dreams. Just a thought!

  • Emma says:

    Anecdotally, lucid dreaming as described above really helped me get past my anxiety drems. (Except My Car Has No Brakes. In that one, if I make myself aware I am actually dreaming it turns into My Car Has No Brakes And Apparently I Am Also Asleep At The Wheel Oh God.)

    What also helped me was realizing that I was really unhappy in my current job. I had done such a good job of pep-talking myself that my waking self started to actually believe that I wasn't bored stiff and that my coworkers weren't super annoying. Nighttime self was having none of that. When I finally admitted to myself that I needed a change, nights got a whole lot better.

    @Sars: "Right down everything"? Are *you* doing ok?

  • attica says:

    There are a couple of OTC meds that can reliably trigger The World Hates Me dreams, if I take them at night. Some antihistamines, for instance. If you take meds at night, consider moving them up in the day or replacing them with some other compound.

    I also find a correlation with particularly stressful dreams and PMS. (Many things correlate with PMS. Damn it all.)

    Another trick to try is the use of white noise in the room. I like to put on the commercial-free classical channel on at the very lowest audible volume level, so I have to strain to hear it — and if I'm too tired to strain to hear it, then it just serves as a lullaby. Classical music dreams are never stressful. Of course, this may conflict with anybody else sharing the noise-space, but it's worth considering.

  • Editrix says:

    I have hypnagogic hallucinations, a sleep disorder. My brain sometimes gets input that it shouldn't (ambient light and sound) and makes up scenarios. In other words, my brain is asleep and dreaming but my body is awake and feeding the brain input it should not be getting. The most common type is when you're falling asleep but your brain gets ahead of your body. Your awake feet can feel that there's no ground beneath them. The sleeping brain then makes up a scenario (you're falling) and you jerk awake.

    Mine are generally terrifying and blend into and out of anxiety dreams. However, there is no real psychological component to them. Certainly it's better if I'm getting enough sleep, managing my daytime stress, eating right, etc., but this is just how my brain happens to work and doesn't actually mean I have an anxiety disorder or other mental illness (which I could have, but this isn't a sign of it).

    What does this have to do with you? Just to echo the other respondents that this is likely about tweaking your habits and not Problem problem. Have a warm beverage, meditate for a few minutes, get a routine. If that doesn't help, look at your life. This could be a very healthy brain's way of telling you to get your shit together–if so, you probably know what's wrong and what you have to do. If not, maybe write Sars back? Good luck!

  • Nunu says:

    Seems simple, but why complicate a good thing – a cup of warm chamomile tea can really be awesome under these circumstances. From its anti-anxiety properties to the relaxing warmth of an evening cuppa, it could be a good beginning. Good luck!

  • Penguinlady says:

    I have had anxiety dreams since I was a little kid, and taught myself how to lucid dream. It really helps. What you do is "stay in" the dream and take control of it. If you're in a car with no brakes, you just change your dream to where you're going up a hill and the car stops. If the house is on fire, you get an extinguisher and put it out, etc. It takes practice, but it does work. I used to have the car dreams, too. Then, I would dream I was being chased, so in my lucid dream, I'd hide. It gives you control over your situation and makes the dream less scary. Good luck!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Emma: Bwa! I've had a sinus headache since…2013, basically. Fixing now.

  • Mimi says:

    Second (third?) the advice to write the dreams down – a few years ago I started having regular nightmares, the kind that hung with me all day, even though I knew they made no logical sense in real life. I started carrying around a little black moleskine (I didn't always have time first thing in the morning) and wrote down the ones that had a story or drew the images that were haunting me (despite, I should add, a near-complete lack of artistic ability). After a couple of weeks, I was more interested in seeing what would end up in the notebook than worrying about what I'd dreamt and the dreams pretty much stopped. It's still fun to pull it out and flip through now and then, just to be amazed that my brain came up with that.

  • Jobiska says:

    I'm such a novice yoga-goer that I almost hesitate to post, but hey, I suppose it can't hurt. My "yoga basics" instructor sometimes has us do a pose (we're folded forward, but instead of legs together, they are very wide apart and the hands are either supporting you or your head is on a block). Every time we do this she comments that a friend of hers finds this helps her fall asleep. So I suppose you could poke around online for yoga routines to help with better sleep? Good luck.

  • Angharad says:

    Do you exercise regularly? I find that if my mental and physical energy levels don't align, like if I'm mentally exhausted but haven't done a lot of physical activity, I have difficulty sleeping and odd, restless dreams. And it's a vicious cycle: a not-super-restful night means I'll be exhausted and even less likely to exercise the next day, which only exacerbates the issue.

  • ErinW says:

    I'm another medicated crazy dreamer. I've been on cold meds the last couple days and that brings out some vivid scenarios.

    I'm also a terribly anxious person, and I've been going through a busy and stressful period in my life. So that's just asking for the conscious stressors to wander into my subconscious and muck things up, which can be intense when the dreams are so vivid themselves. I've found that engaging in some calming activity just before bed helps to keep the night anxiety at bay. I like to read for 20 or 30 minutes, or even play some Sudoku on my phone. They say nothing with screens, screens are bad for sleep, but for me it shuts my brain down just right.

  • IS says:

    To shake off the aftereffects of the dream and make starting your day easier, see if you can introduce laughter into your morning routine. Play stand-up comedy youtube videos while you have a shower and get ready for your day (you don't have to watch, just listen).

    Another idea I once heard somewhere, which may be helpful depending on your thought patterns and relationship status, is to make a rule for yourself that you can only think about sex if you're lying in bed in the dark. I originally heard this as a solution for insomnia (it motivates you go to lie in bed in the dark, and once you're there you're in a happy place even if you're not asleep), but in your case it might help alleviate any dread of "Aww man, I have to go to sleep and have those dreams again!"

  • Jennifer says:

    My crackassed solution for this problem sounds bad, but it worked for me: get 5 or less hours of sleep a night for a few nights, deliberately. 5 hours or less seems to equal "no dreaming," so it interrupted the cycle of dreaming about exes. After 2-3 days of that, I didn't have the problem any more.

    Yeah, I'm sure you're going to tell me you need your 8 hours or you can't function at work at all, but….well, that's what I got.

  • Whitney says:

    Is there a possibility that you might be anxious about the chance of something going wrong in the future? I ask because I've recently had a couple of mysterious bouts with anxiety despite my life going pretty well for the last several months. I finally realized I had been bouncing from one actual source of anxiety (job stress, breakups, bedbugs) after another for almost five years and my subconscious was convinced the long period of relative calm meant the next calamity was right around the corner.

  • Beth C. says:

    Second to everything everyone said. I get severe anxiety dreams, sometimes I Know why sometimes not, and along with what everyone else has said the this that helps me more than anything else is meditating for 15 or 20 minutes before bed. There's something about the meditation headspace that seems to cut a lot of the anxiety triggers off at the pass. There are a whole mess of meditation apps out there and most of them are free or super cheap so you can dabble around and find one you like if you think that would help. I like Simply Being, it just a super simple, no frills guided meditation.

    Good luck.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    If you have a smartphone or an iPod touch you could get the sleep cycle app and it will tell you when you are in different levels of sleep and this might help you identify patterns. Also, a really dark room helps you get better sleep than one with ambient light (plus apparently there is a study (on mice) that shows that mice sleeping with ambient light gained more weight than those sleeping in total darkness: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/10/28/sleeping-with-the-lights-on-could-cause-weight-gain.aspx).

    Jane mentioned teeth grinding – I apparently am a major grinder but it was diagnosed via constantly cracked fillings rather than tooth wear so it took a while to notice the issue because I was switching dentists about once a year due to insurance changes. Anyway, my dental insurance (which is average) covered half the cost of the night guard.

  • Kristen says:

    Oh my, where do I start. For me, the anxiety dreams provide much enjoyment and entertainment for my husband. "Nocturnal theatrics" he calls them. Fun times! The bacon boat is sinking, the piano is collapsing on top of us, the cruise ship is dissolving from the inside out, the wall mirror is somehow going to attack us…

    In any case, they completely went away while I was pregnant. So maybe that's an option?

    Clearly, I'm no help. But I'm reading the other comments…I'd definitely say the exercise and yoga suggestions sound like they are worth trying.

  • Cora says:

    Following on what Emily said, it's not just pregnancy that can change your hormones, but also just aging. Maybe your body is changing and this is an after-effect. I get the insurance thing, but you could probably go to your regular doctor or your gynecologist for a wellness checkup and not have to pay more than the copay. It follows along with Sars' first advice of let's rule out what could be a physical problem. The doctor might recommend an endocrinologist or therapy; if the latter, maybe that doctor could help you through the maze of insurance with a referral. At the least, I see it as can't hurt/might help kind of thing, which is always worth trying.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I'll just chime in and say:

    - No caffeine after 6 PM, no matter how tired you are. And Sars is right, Diet Coke absolutely counts. I learned that the hard way.

    - As others have mentioned, room temperature can have a LOT to do with it. If my room is too hot it's a nightmare. Too cold and it's a nightmare. Just cool enough and I sleep so much better (and I have sleep issues, too).

    - Disconnect from all electronic gadgets at least an hour before bed, if not more. There's something about the TV or computer that can just keep you awake if you stay on until right before bed. That's something I've been working on.

    - Is it possible you just need a break from your usual routine? That could mean anything from just taking a day off to relax, go to a coffee shop and read a good book to taking a weekend somewhere with your husband, if possible, or even just getting a massage. I'm working on that myself – treating myself to little things.

    Best wishes to you… I know (as do a lot of posters here!) what you're going through. Sometimes I feel like there is not enough sleep in the world to help me!

  • Jo says:

    I don't have much advice, but this is a really interesting thread! I like reading about what kinds of dreams people have and what they think causes them.

    Is it possible there's some big change coming in your life that you don't THINK you're anxious about but that your brain is using as an excuse to mess with you? Did you recently change jobs or are there changes happening at your company or industry? (I'm a copy editor at a newspaper. The layoff meeting always feels just a few days away. But when I'm stressed about work, I just have boring dreams. I dream that I'm at my desk doing menial tasks all night — formatting baseball box scores or something — at least a dream about layoffs would be interesting.)

    As far as medications people have suggested: I took Ambien for insomnia for a while and it gives me more vivid, strange dreams. I've never really had nightmares or bad dreams, but I'm not sure it would be a good drug for people who don't like what they're dreaming about.

    A lot of people take Benadryl to help them sleep, but I find that Benadryl gives me nightmares. I NEVER have nightmares, but I had two terrifying dreams in one night the last time I took Benadryl. I won't even take it for allergies because of that.

  • Marie says:

    All of the above is good advice. I would also add – consider taking a multivitamin with iron. One of the weirder symptoms of iron deficiency is a sense of impending doom and maybe this is showing up in your dreams.

  • Amy says:

    Thought I'd point out that reading through this thread may be enough to jump start a completely different sort of dream for you.

    In my case, reading just before going to bed resulted in a night-long dream in which the recurring action was a make-out session with Sherlock. DELIGHTFUL! (Benedict Cumberbatch, not Basil Rathbone…)

    So, three cheers for that…

  • Erin says:

    I second the pharmaceutical route. I was having problems falling asleep and staying asleep (I would be awake usually from about 2:00 AM – 5:00 AM), so my GP gave me an anti-anxiety pill. She said that would turn my brain off and allow me to fall asleep. I used it until I "fixed" my cycle of insomnia. I still have it just in case, but once I broke the cycle I haven't really needed it.

  • cinderkeys says:

    Lulu beat me to the lucid dreaming suggestion. I've never learned how to lucid-dream on command, but on a rare occasion I'll realize I'm dreaming, and once or twice that's been empowering.

    Here's the radio segment. Or maybe Lulu was thinking of a different one, but this is a good one.

    http://www.radiolab.org/story/182747-wake-up-dream/

  • anotherkate says:

    Wow, I can't believe I'm the first person to mention sleep apnea! I have mild sleep apnea and if I'm sleeping in a position that makes it hard to breathe I am guaranteed a nightmare. So, try sleeping on your side, make sure your mattress/pillows are giving you enough support, and maybe check in with your doctor.
    For more run of the mill anxiety dreams, I use a sort of combined meditation/lucid dreaming technique where I tell my dream-self to stop running, relax, close my eyes and breathe deeply. I'm also frequently saying something along the lines of "let it happen". I think it works because I'm mentally stepping out of the script of the dream, and I'm addressing the physical reactions of tense muscles and shallow breathing that stress causes.

  • Tired (OP) says:

    Thanks, all! A month has passed to let the recs pile up, so I'm going to respond in batches!

    Sarah D. Bunting: I almost never drink soda in the evening, though I'll occasionally have a cup of tea. I try to switch to herbals after dinner, though. Alcohol doesn't tend to affect my sleep that much, at least, dream-wise, but I do tend to eat dinner fairly late at least a few times a week — I bet that doesn't help. In terms of daily agita, hoo boy: my husband likes to make remarks he thinks are "funny" when he's exhausted, and I have no patience for that shit when I'm exhausted, so odds are he sometimes says the wrong thing right before bed and it lodges in the brain (I pointed this out to him, but it was before bed, so he just said, "Well, tell your brain to stop it!" Thanks, honey.). I did the dream journal thing a few nights, but with a husband who can't sleep if I turn the light on, it was pretty inconsistent. I did make notes before bed of things that might affect me, and realized a dream about getting shot at was directly due to a Time Magazine article I read while brushing my teeth for bed, so that actually helped.

    Molly: I live in a place with excellent mass-transit, so it's normally not an issue, but yeah, I really do need to get around to taking the driver's exam. There's just not much urgency (see: excellent mass-transit).

    Marian: Alas, it's a crapshoot — our landlord controls the thermostat, so sometimes it's freezing (haul out the extra blankets) and sometimes it's broiling (why am I wearing pajamas, again?), and it's possible a switch from one to the other in the middles of the night is messing with my dreams, but I'm not sure what to do about that other than say, "Oh, yeah, that's probably part of the problem!"

    Everyone who mentioned lucid dreaming: Worth a try. The closest I've ever managed is when my brain tried to hit me with the old "You've missed too many classes to graduate" dream. I looked at my 11h grade Biology teacher and said, "I'm 30 years old and have a Masters. Why am I even here?" His answer was not satisfactory.

    Everyone who mentioned pregnancy: Nope! But now I have another thing to worry about! (I kid)

    More later! Thanks again, all!

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