How to Stop Repeating Terrible Dreams

In my recurring nightmare, I did something terrible, truly disgusting. That this is a terrible thing is not clear, but that I am sure that I am going to be caught for it, so I run. And run, and run, and run, and always about to be caught. Now this is the standard nightmarish emotional content of horror, but this dream also causes some shame , simply due to the unnecessary waste of my subconscious. I always wake up shaky and distraught. Good times.

It turns out that I am not alone – many people have constant sleep disturbances. “Most adults report having at least one recurring dream in their lifetime, and five to six percent of adults report an ongoing problem with nightmares,” says Antonio Zadra, a professor at the University of Montreal and researcher at the Center for Advanced Study in Medicine. sleep. These dreams and nightmares even fall into certain categories: for example, “exam dream” in which you did not prepare enough for the exam; or a health nightmare in which you or someone you love is about to die; or the nightmare I’m having, the classic chase and chase scenario.

And whether our repeated choices are daunting or just annoying, many of us want to nip these nocturnal disruptions in the bud. Hence this “Ask the metafilter” question that I discovered when I was looking for how to get rid of my own nocturnal adventures: ” Can a nuclear bomb destroy the most annoying dream ?”

To figure out what to do to get rid of a recurring nightmare – or at least change it so it isn’t so intimidating – I spoke to a couple of sleep experts who teach nightmare sufferers a technique known as image rehearsal therapy .

The first question – says Daniel Levin, a psychologist, a specialist in sleep and the Deputy Director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at the National Children’s health care system , – whether these are new nightmares? A sudden wave of nightmares or other sleep disturbances “requires a general medical examination.” A critical first step can be to eliminate underlying physical and mental health problems such as thyroid dysfunction, PTSD, and depression. “In rare cases, there can be a serious problem,” says Dr. Levin, so if sleep problems come on suddenly, see your doctor.

First, what is happening in your life in reality?

The content of your sleep can provide clues about how doctors will approach treatment. Regarding the dream about the examination, Dr. Zadra says: “I would give a specific set of recommendations. If people try to brush it off or get rid of it, they might be missing out on something important. These dreams tend to happen at certain times and are a really great metaphor for the ongoing self-doubts we might have, doubts about work, relationships, family, or our own outlook on ourselves. “

They usually arise when we wonder if we can handle a task – for example, before giving a big talk or presentation – “when we wonder if we are really doing the job,” says Zadra. “So first, take a moment and think about what’s going on, what’s bothering you?” He notes that these things do not have to be literally related to the exam – in what area of ​​your life do you not feel able to cope with the task at hand? “Are people going to find out that I’m actually not as good as I think I am? It is better to pay attention [to these feelings] than to reject them or try to make them disappear. ” If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, or need to deal with certain anxieties, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with a mental health professional.

Then rehearse

It might seem counterintuitive to rehearse something terrifying? But much of Dr. Zadra’s job is to help people change their dreams by practicing them in image rehearsal therapy. The morning after the nightmare, he says: “Take a piece of paper or even use mental images and think about what you would like to change in your dream. It can be whatever you like. ” It could be something big – for example, you change the ending, or it could be a very small detail, for example, the color of the wall. “It really depends on the narrative structure of the nightmare. If you rehearse this nightmare [with altered details], it can reduce the frequency or intensity of dreams. “

When I tell him about my recurring stalking nightmare – that I’ve done something truly embarrassing and I’m so close to being caught – he gives me a few instructions: “In a dream, when you enter the park or a car, notice something visually noticeable. ” This means that when I’m being chased, jumping over walls, or running around corners, I have to pay attention to some visual details in my dreams.

I choose the column that I remember seeing when I slipped out of the door, trying to escape my pursuers. “This is a sign that you are dreaming,” says Dr. Zadra. So this is the moment when I need to change the narrative. “Are you confronting the aggressor? Fly away? “He asked. If you think ahead, you can neutralize the frightening part of dreams. Dr. Levin repeats this:” He turns, faces the fear and examines it. Focus on changing the course of the dream or scenario. Changing the dream history and applying lucid dreaming techniques. to be a more active participant in their dreams can help change their course. ”Which brings us to …

Lucid dreaming

Some lucky people can control the content of their dreams, as Patrick Allan of Lifehacker describes in his book What Are Lucid Dreaming And How Do I Get Started ? Namely, “Lucid dreams … are like exploring an amusement park you built yourself. You can not only go where you want, but you can do whatever you want. This is your world. In essence, fully lucid dream is a dream that you have complete control over. Do you want to fly like a superhero? Perhaps – I did it. Do you want to confront the bully without fear? No sweat. Do you want to strike up a romantic relationship with the beautiful person you dream of? You definitely can. Imagine going to bed every night and pursuing your most extravagant fantasies, and then waking up feeling refreshed and refreshed. This is a lucid dream. “

Lucid dreaming is a hot topic right now ( this Radio Lab is interesting if you want to know more) and is helping some people turn their nightmares into simple dreams. However, Dr. Zadra notes that this does not work for everyone – that using it to combat recurring nightmares is “difficult unless you are already a lucid dreamer.” It is worth a try, though, if you are looking for an amusement park. Check out the link above and the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming to get started.

As for me, I try to rehearse the image. When I see the pillar, I will turn and resist – especially in the part of shame. In rehearsal, I turn and kick like someone from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon . And for good measure I will shout “I’m not ashamed!” – just for a little extra waste of my subconscious.


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