mental health

Recurring dreams: what they mean and how to deal with them

Recurring dreams: what they mean and how to deal with them
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For years, dreams of my teeth breaking, loosening or falling out plagued my sleep. My loved ones have dreamed many times of flying, driving in a self-driving car, or being late for school or work. These are not typical nightmares, which usually happen once. These are some of the most common recurring dreams, which tend to be negative and can take some work to overcome.

“Recurring dreams are more likely to be about very deep life experiences or just character logic issues that are somehow guaranteed to recur in waking life because they are part of you rather than a one-time event. “said dream researcher Deirdre Barrett, professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Since our dreams don’t usually repeat themselves, dreaming the same dream two or more times is enough for it to be considered recurring, Barrett said. They’re more common in childhood, Barrett said, but can last into adulthood. And recurring dreams don’t always happen in close proximity to each other — they can appear several times a month or years apart, Barrett said.

According to experts, recurring dreams can be the same every time, or they can simply recycle the same types of scenarios or worries.

“It’s difficult to assess the prevalence of recurring dreams because it’s not something that happens regularly for most people,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Nirit Soffer-Dudek, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University. of the Negev in Israel, by e-mail. “And when people are asked about past dreams in their life, they may be influenced by memory distortions, interest in dreams (or lack thereof) or other factors.”

Either way, anything that comes up repeatedly is worth investigating, said sleep medicine specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu, founder of Silicon Psych, a psychiatry and sleep medicine practice at Menlo Park, California.

“People have this kind of tactile approach with uncomfortable or scary things, and I think dreams are, in a way, the same way,” Dimitriu said. “As a psychiatrist, I tend to say there’s a message maybe trying to get across to you. And the answer, then, might be to figure out what it is. And I think when you do, maybe you can put the thing to rest.

Here’s how to determine what triggers your recurring dreams.

For some recurring dreams, the message is simple – if you repeatedly dream of being late for school or work, you are probably often nervous about not being prepared for these things. But others, despite their banality, may not have universal meaning, requiring you to do some introspection to find out more.

“In interpretation, we really don’t believe that there are universal symbols, but that’s (that’s) what an individual’s personal symbol system is and their associations to something,” said Barrett said.

In addition to unpreparedness, other common themes of recurring dreams include social embarrassment, feelings of inadequacy in relation to others, and danger in the form of car accidents or natural disasters, Barrett and Dmitriu.

Some people have dreams related to test anxiety, even if they haven’t been to school in years, Barrett said. It may reflect a general fear of failure or feelings of being judged by authority figures. Dreams about tooth loss or deterioration can relate to losing something else in your life, feeling hopeless or helpless, or having health problems.

When faced with a recurring dream, ask yourself what the message might be, Dimitriu said. What is your relationship to the things or people in the dream? What are your fears and belief systems about these things? What are the top five things in your life that could trigger or be related to it? What are you really worried about?

“I really think it’s fine to do informal dream interpretation, either on your own or with someone close and trusted who can kind of see things to question that you don’t see,” Barrett said.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety are more likely to have recurring dreams, especially those of an anxious nature, Dimitriu said. A dream of PTSD stems from a trauma so severe that it keeps coming back as a nightmare.

“The brain is trying to figure something out and put it to rest,” he added. But “in people with PTSD, their dreams are so vivid that they awaken them from sleep. And that becomes the problem because the dream is never processed. … And that’s why it comes back – it’s unfinished business.

Sometimes recurring dreams can also indicate biological sources. “People with sleep apnea will report dreams of drowning, suffocation, giant waves, gasping for air, underwater, or being suffocated,” Dimitriu said, when they actually experience breathing interruptions. due to their condition.

There can also be environmental triggers, like a car alarm on the street or a dripping faucet, he added, which can trigger dreams with images of those things.

Once you have a better idea of ​​your worries, writing about them before bed can be helpful in easing negative recurring dreams and stress in general.

“For my patients and I, journaling is such a powerful tool,” Dimitriu said. Meditation might also help.

When you know what fear is behind your dream, Dimitriu recommends dealing with it through a three-column method used in cognitive behavioral therapy: What is your automatic thought? What is your automatic feeling? Finally, what is the most reality-based alternative thought?

Dream rehearsal therapy, also known as image rehearsal therapy, can be effective for both recurring dreams and nightmares. This approach consists of writing out the narrative elements of the dream in detail, then rewriting it so that it ends positively. Just before falling asleep, you set the intention to re-dream by saying aloud, “If or when I have the beginning of the same bad dream, I may instead have this much better dream with a positive outcome. ”

If your recurring dreams are making you feel stressed or unhappy, causing other symptoms, or starting to impair your ability to function regularly, it’s time to seek professional help, experts say.

The recurring dreams could also stem from poor sleep hygiene, Soffer-Dudek said.

“A lot of embarrassing things happen at night when people are sleep deprived, drink caffeine too late, drink alcohol too late, worked too late, or slept four hours last night because they got up. too late,” he said. “The fundamental core and foundation of a healthy dream life begins with healthy sleep.”

Dimitriu also recommended limiting distractions that interfere with your thinking and processing time, such as spending unnecessary time on your phone or always filling in the silence.

When your mind is always busy, “what happens is that all this processing has to happen somewhere,” he said. “So now there’s more pressure for this to happen in your dream life.”

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