Friday, 18 March 2016

Night Terrors

Everyone has dreams, I know that. But the dreams I'm writing about today, if you could call them that, only come in the midst of depressive episodes. They're something I have experienced over the years, so I decided to explore them in depth during Embrace Your Past month.

Waking up exhausted after many disturbing dreams is a common experience for many depressed people. I've never understood why this happens every time my mental health is at a low, so I've decided to not only do some research into it but also describe what it feels like for others. 

Back in 2012 I wrote this piece on what happens when I go to sleep. I can remember the time vividly. I was afraid to go to bed at night. Nightmares persisted for weeks and I could get no release. Emotionally and physically I was drained. And so I turned to my journal:
My dreams have all turned to nightmares. Every night I am confronted by at least two visions of lives and futures that I do not want. Throughout the day they slowly come back to me, triggered by words, images and sounds. By night time I am filled with fear; Fear of the sketched pieces of a memory I can’t quite put back together. Fear of whats to come when I fall asleep again. What sticks in my mind is the need to escape. I spend the entire night trying to break free from my sleep, to wake up. This is the reason why every time I wake up I am filled with relief. I am aware that I was scared, but I can’t quite recall why. To confront death and destitution every single night in your sleep is exhausting.  I wake up tired. I cannot recall the last time that I slept soundly, feeling safe. I live in fear of my own mind and the places that it takes me when I can’t control my thoughts. I am lost and lonely every time I fall asleep. I can never reach my goal. I can never escape and reach you. The world ends.
Nights like this were a common occurrence. Every time that I lay down to sleep I longed for the morning. They were unrelenting. They felt real. I would fight and struggle to wake myself up. 

Sleeping is a side-effect of my tablets. I'm not going to complain, because I used to not be able to sleep. But another common side-effect is vivid dreams. For a while now I've blamed these type of dreams on my medication. But this would not explain why I don't experience them every single night.
It wasn't until Christmas 2014, a particularly dark time, that they returned after an absence of many years.
I began to question the link between Depression and Dreams.

I hadn't heard of nightmares/vivid dreams as a symptom of depression before, so I had never made the connection.

What the web says:

This Psychology Today article says:
 "Each day of depression is linked to a night of disrupted sleep and dreams. And vice versa."
Fears and worries express themselves in dreams:
"Emotionally arousing ruminations which are unfulfilled at sleep onset (i.e. the concern is still a worry) get ‘dreamed out’ metaphorically during dreaming. This is done to leave the ‘higher brain’ (neo-cortex) free for dealing with the next day's events." Source:
It has also been claimed that people with depression dream more because they are more distressed -
"they have more emotional arousal to ‘dream out.’ Depression causes (and is caused by) a lot of emotionally-arousing introspection, or rumination, that endless sort of worrying that never seems to go anywhere and just makes you feel bad." Source:
In non-technical terms, depression means that there is an overload of feelings due to excessive worrying. This makes sense. But I don't think I'm actually worried about the end of the world when I dream about the apocalypse.

Allan Hobson argues that just as depression involves chemical irregularities in the brain, dreams are also a chemical event in his attempt to explain the link between the two. (Source:

Any amount of dreaming means your mind is working over time. And with depression the dreams are intensified. Excessive and extended dreaming periods prevent rest and recovery, which is why you often wake-up tired even after over-sleeping.

It's a really interesting link; Dreams and Depression. And from what I've been able to find about it, it's still very much unexplored. But even discovering that such a link exists has left me feeling more at ease with the subject. Previously, it has been a topic I avoided because I didn't understand how my night terrors fit into my overall mental health experience.

Perhaps there is some benefit in exploring our past after all... 

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