Dreams and Stress

I’m in Montreal. Sitting in a picturesque location. Enjoying my last few minutes before heading back to Toronto via train. I calmly get on the train, but then realize I hadn’t bought a ticket. A friend I rarely see passes by me as I rush to the ticket booth. The agent in the booth tells me I’m too late, the train is leaving. I shout “let me try!”, so he sells me a ticket and I run back to the train, which is leaving the station. The next train is not for 3 hours, which for some reason causes me to feel a great sense of panic.

Then Gavin gets up to go to the washroom and I do the same. What a weird, stressful dream.

I’ve been having a lot of “stressful” dreams this week. I put stressful in quotation marks, because, really, what’s so stressful about being stuck in Montreal for an extra three hours. But I remember the great sense of panic I was experiencing in my dream.

What is the meaning of these stressful dreams? What is the cause? I am typically a good sleeper. My Fitbit has confirmed this since I started using it a short while ago. I rarely have trouble falling asleep and I typically sleep a good 7-8 hours, minus a few trips to the loo (sorry, insomniacs). My ratio of light/awake/deep/REM sleep is within benchmarks (although, interestingly, some nights feel so well rested, with lots of deep sleep, and the Fitbit says otherwise). This is a good thing, because I am also one of those people who does not function well at all, with less than 7 hours of sleep. A couple nights in a row of less than 7 quality hours of sleep, and I am in a fog, irritable, and likely feeling like I am getting a cold.

If you search “What is the meaning of my dream” on the internet, you’ll find everything under the sun. Some articles listing the most common dreams. Some describing meaning. Others explaining that they typically do not mean anything. The general consensus is that they should not be taken literally. The practical part of my nature doesn’t put too much thought into them having any real meaning.

But I do wonder if the stressful dreams correlate to stress I am not identifying properly in my day-to-day life. Stress that I am not dealing with in a healthy way. Or, like most things these days, I will blame the stressful dreams on hormones. Poor old hormones have such a bad reputation!

I used to have night terrors when I was a child. I read some where that approximately 6% of children experience night terrors. These typically happen in the late stages of “non-REM” sleep, as opposed to the REM state, where nightmares happen. The causes are thought to be:

  • Sleep deprivation and extreme tiredness;
  • Stress;
  • Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions; and
  • Fever.

Night terrors result in the individual waking up screaming or flailing. My Mom is all too aware of these night terrors, as she was typically the one who came to calm me down as I’d be ripping wallpaper from the wall, and then calmly going back to sleep as if nothing happened (while I’m sure my Mom and the rest of the household was up for awhile after).

I haven’t had any night terrors as an adult, save for the one time when I was barely an adult, in my early 20s, and my sister and I had just moved into an apartment in Windsor. I was starting my first year at the University of Windsor and Janine was starting at St. Clair College for Dental Hygiene. It was our first night in our new apartment. Apparently my body was stressed about this new experience, in a new city, starting at a new school. Janine and I were sharing a room, which we’d never done when we were kids. So when I woke up screaming, she couldn’t put her blanket over her head as she used to do. She came to calm me down at the wrong time and in my flailing state, I inflicted wounds on her leg. Thankfully, for both of us, that was the last time that happened.

I’m not having night terrors now, but I am wondering what’s causing my stressful dreams. Is it the aforementioned hormones? Covid-19 and the impending second wave? Is there something I can do to have less stressful dreams?

I found this list of suggested preventative measures:

  1. Meditation (I should do more but I’m better at “active meditation” than sit and
    breathe meditation);
  2. Deep breathing (see above);
  3. Relaxation techniques (suggestions?);
  4. Art therapy (this is actually intriguing to me. I’ve been thinking about learning knitting or crocheting);
  5. Exercise (I have that covered!); and
  6. Other activities that can ease your stress (gee, thanks, that narrows it down!)
Turquoise yarn with knitting needles scissored through the ball of yarn.
Would a new hobby help Nicole’s stress sleeping?

Readers, do you find any correlation from real stress in your daily lives and noticeably more stressful dreams? Do you do things while you are awake to calm your dreams? Do you believe your dreams mean something?

Nicole P. is looking for ways to reduce frightful sleep.

7 thoughts on “Dreams and Stress

  1. Therapy!!! 🙂
    Not boring therapy lol. Expressive arts or Jungian or a really brilliant Relational therapist. I am so happy I have my person who helps me with all the things in wild ways that usually involve play. It totally helps me.

  2. I definitely think dreams mean something–with the exception maybe of dreams that are directly related to whatever movie or tv show I was watching right before bed–if it’s all about French spies right now, then I know it’s because of Le Bureau. But I’m not a dream interpreter and I also think that what they mean is deeply personal to the dreamer. But a good technique for thinking about dreams that I recently learned from a wise woman was to take apart the elements of the dream and ask what they mean to you– as in, what is a train and train station to you? how would you explain train and train station to an alien? etc… For me it always yields unexpected insights.

    And on the de-stressing front–I think self-empathy practices from the world of Non-Violent Communication can be amazing. And, I’d be happy to jump on zoom or phone with you sometime and guide you through one. After that it’s something you can do on your own super easily.

  3. I take magnesium before bed and I find I don’t dream much that I remember.
    Nightmares and stress definitely do coincide. During my divorce I had many arguing dreams. It was exhausting. Ideal just like you -I need my 7-9 hours.
    Maybe writing it down like this will help it become clear!


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