“Dreaming permits each and every one of us
to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.”
~William C. Dement
If you ask people how they’re doing these days, the most common answer is, “I’m tired.” Reality has set in—this quarantine isn’t temporary. We’re realizing it will likely be months before we’re in the clear. Anxiety levels are up and lack of sleep is becoming a major issue for most of us. Depression is setting in for many. Both anxiety and depression can cause major interruptions in sleep—trouble going to sleep, staying asleep, or both. A common problem is our minds racing and preventing us from going to sleep in the first place, or racing when we wake in the night so we can’t go back to sleep. Also, in times of major stress, there’s an increase in anxiety dreams.
Today I want to share some tips on how to get better sleep, and also a method to help slow the racing heart and wildly pumping adrenaline we experience when awakening from an anxiety dream or nightmare.
I’ve awakened from anxiety dreams the past three nights, and people I’ve spoken to are experiencing them, as well. If you’re having anxiety dreams and nightmares on a regular basis, you might be resisting sleep. The paradox here is that we need time to dream (even anxiety dreams/nightmares) to help process what’s going on in our lives—and sleep (which we might dread) give us that time.
Physically, we need sleep to: rejuvenate and reenergize, grow muscle and repair tissue, synthesize hormones, decrease risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic diseases, and, especially critical right now, we need sleep to boost our immune systems.
Mentally and emotionally, lack of sleep can lead to: problems with concentration, cognition, productivity, and mental performance, difficulty processing emotional information, depression and increased risk of death by suicide.
Dreams, which occur during what’s called REM sleep, help us to: process the day’s events, improve long-term memory, work out problems and conflicts, and practice survival techniques through stimulation of the part of the brain that engages in the practice of survival through the “fight or flight” response. Thus, the adrenaline rush.
The bottom line is good sleep protects our physical, mental, and emotional health. We need good sleep more than ever now.
To get optimal sleep, we should avoid stimulants like sugar, caffeine and cigarettes late in the day, practice relaxing bedtimes routines, avoid napping, exercise daily, create and stick to a sleep schedule, make our rooms dark, cool, and quiet (or use a noise canceling machine or fan), avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and electronics in the hours before bed.
If, while trying to fall asleep, you find your mind racing, try the counting your breath relaxation exercise I included in my very first of these posts. (#1) I find it to be extremely helpful before sleep and when I wake in the middle of the night. Especially from a nightmare or anxiety dream.
If you have a bad dream, instead of replaying it, tell yourself, “It was just a dream. I’m okay right now.” Shift positions, take deep, calm breaths, and try to go back to sleep. As we all know, it usually doesn’t take long to forget our dreams.
If, however, the dream and our physical response to the dream is adrenaline pumping, heart racing panic, it will take more. To keep from replaying the dream in your head, get up, go to the bathroom, move around. If needed, pick up a book and read a chapter.
If you’re STILL having trouble putting the dream out of your head, jot down as much as you can remember in a notebook or your journal. If pieces are lost, make them up. This switches your brain into a more active-cognitive state, rather than reactive-emotional. To get into an even more analytical state, look over the details of your dream, sort out what you recognize as events from your day or recent days (day residue). Sometimes that’s all it takes to make sense of it and relax.
To be even more analytical, as opposed to emotional, think of the different major characters or symbols in your dream as different parts of you. Look at the dream from THEIR points of view. This is the Gestalt method of dream analysis and it can be very helpful in seeing conflicts we’re struggling with and/or issues we’re facing that our dreams are trying to help us resolve. It also helps us remember that dreams are not external demons DOING something to us, but rather our subconscious trying to help us come to a more peaceful state.
Sometimes, when doing this, I realize issues I didn’t know I was still struggling with. Other times, I recognize the dream is stemming from my experience of being out of control, or lacking in what I need to handle a situation. Perfect examples of anxiety dreams! And, sometimes, a dream is just a dream—and has no deeper meaning. Just like, as Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Thanks, again, so much, to all of you who are reading my posts. I’m honored that you’re following me, and grateful my words are helping. Stay home and stay safe. We are all in this together.
Blessings, gratitude, and much love to all of you.