What does my dream mean?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Dreams

Dream On!
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Ever wondered what you dream meant?

Dreams

Dreams
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Many readers email me about what their dream may mean. They want answers and hope I can provide them. Dreams can provide useful information for your awake life. Over simplistic interpretations can be harmful. I have written previously about some common drug using dreams that clients have reported to me and what I and they thought these dreams meant.

Dreams about relationships and life events seem, to me, to be open to a lot more possible interpretations than the common drug use dreams I wrote about in those posts.

Dream interpretation used to get more attention.

First I will offer some thoughts on the topic of dream interpretation, then some suggestions for interpreting your particular dreams.

There was a time when interpreting dreams was a large part of what people in the psychology field did. The key concept in dream interpretation was the Freudian interpretation of mental processes and the role that was ascribed to the unconscious. Jung wrote about the collective unconscious and there are “depth” psychologists today that work in this area.

Interpreting dreams went out of fashion.

Somewhere along the line the study of normal psychology and the study of mental health and mental illness, sometimes called “abnormal psychology” were divorced.

Today the predominant model for treatment of mental illness or improving mental wellness is cognitive behavioral therapy. Rather than looking for answers to life problems in the place of an unknowable and uncontrollable unconscious most therapy and counseling looks at very visible processes like learning and cognitive distortions. The emphasis is on things you think and believe, that are unhelpful, not on things your unconscious mind is making you do.

Most of the cognitive interventions, like reframing and challenging faulty assumptions are relatively straightforward. Interpreting dreams is far more subjective and less certain. While interpreting dreams and exploring your unconscious can be personally rewarding it is not the sort of brief, medically necessary, intervention a lot of insurance companies will pay for.

Personally, I have some dreams. Some of those are a bit disturbing and others are happy memories, so yes I may look at them. I find I need to be careful in interpreting my dreams and feel you should be careful with anyone who offers you a quick interpretation of your dreams. Especially be suspicious of those popular books that list a whole lot of things and if you dream of a lake it means one thing and if you dream of a river it means something else.

One thing does not always have one definite meaning for everyone. I am told that Freud, that believer in all things sexual, once replied that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. He was, according to some reports, highly addicted to tobacco, so dreaming of cigars makes sense in a drug using context.

Dream meanings are very personal.

Your past life experiences, in real life and vicariously in movies and books can color your dreams. For example, back in High School, I raised some birds, Pigeons, and parakeets, if I dream about those birds it may have one meaning for me and quite another one for a person who was bitten by a bird and as a result is frightened of birds. The important thing is what does this dream mean to you?

Most of us have far more dreams than we remember. Even people who say they do not dream seem to enter dream states when hooked up to machines during sleep studies. Ever had a dream, awakened and ran for the bathroom and when you got back to bed could not remember that dream? The majority of us forget more dreams than we remember. Some people forget almost all of their dreams.

It is the very unusual or frightening dreams that get remembered. If you keep a pad by the bed and write the dream down upon awakening you will discover you are having and remembering a lot more dreams.

From a cognitive perspective, we think that during dreams memories are taken out, processed and then restored. There are opportunities for memories to undergo some alteration as in Lucid dreaming an intervention proposed to help with dreams that maintain PTSD symptoms. 

Things that happen in dreams do not have to follow logic or even the laws of time and space. So you may, in your dream, step out a door and be in another country. So you saw something in your dream, someone did something or something happened to you or a person close to you what does that mean?

Dreams have layers of interpretation.

Recently I read a book on dream interpretation by Jeremy Taylor, Where water runs up hill; he suggests that dreams have many layers of meaning. So the dreams about the parakeets many just be about a fond memory of childhood but it might also have to do with existential things like living, having children and eventually dying, or it might have another meaning altogether.

What he suggests we should do is look at the dream, talk with others you trust about the dream and then look at possible interpretations. What do you think it means at a superficial level, what it could mean at a deeper level and so on. Some of these meanings will not make much sense and some will really speak to you.

So if you comment or use the “contact me” form, I can offer you a possible meaning to two for what you ask about, but I make no pretense that mine is the “correct” interpretation. If when someone tells you that your dream might mean a particular thing and you feel in your gut, your felt-sense, intuition, that this is correct, that meaning is probably part of your truth.

Hope this brief explanation of dreams from purely my perspective might be helpful.

Enjoy your dreams but seek help for disturbing nightmares.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Sleep and Mental Illness connection

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

sleep

Child sleeping.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Does poor sleep cause mental illness or does mental illness keep you from sleeping?

There is a huge connection between mental health issues and insomnia. This fact has been recognized for a long time and its recognition has been built into most of the diagnostic codes.

Some recent studies are making mental health professionals question if have gotten the connections right. Could be there are more connections between sleep and good mental health than we thought.

Sleep disturbances are a diagnostic feature of Major Depressive Disorder. Typical depression includes the inability to sleep. Depression with atypical features is characterized by excessive sleeping. Clients might describe this as hibernating in bed. But depression is not the only mental illness in which sleep features play a role.

Bipolar disorder requires a period of mania or hypomania for diagnosis. One key feature of the “mania spectrum” is needing less or very little sleep and being able to function on reduced sleep. I don’t recall ever reading about a “mania spectrum” but the variability of the way clients report manic-like symptoms is making me think that there is a continuum of manic symptoms just like the continuum of other disorders.

There are specific sleep disorders but as a counselor and therapist, I don’t believe I have ever been called on to work in that area. Most sleep disorders are seen as more medical problems. It is only when a lack of sleep or excessive sleep begins to affect someone’s overall mental health that we counselors get to talk with them.

One health concern has become that increasing weight, the epidemic of obesity it has been called, can cause poor sleep. So we need to wonder if inactivity, excess calories and weight gain are harming our mental as well as our physical health.

There is also a connection between poor sleep and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) Nightmares, as well as daytime intrusive memories, are considered symptoms of PTSD. We probably should observe a distinction between bad dreams and nightmares. With bad dreams, people do not awaken until the morning and may or may not have detailed memories of the dream. Sometimes others around them are aware they had a bad dream even if the dreamer is not aware.

Nightmares are much nastier creatures. They are characterized by strong negative emotions and frequent “awakenings” from the dream. People who have nightmares are much more likely to remember them because they keep waking up.

We also know that having nightmares will prolong the symptoms of PTSD. In a previous post, I wrote about the way in which nightmares play a role in maintaining PTSD symptoms. Nightmares and dreams, good or bad dreams are strongly connected to spiritual, religious and cultural values. Some people also see nightmares as warnings about the future and as a source of intuition. Given that past experiences are a basis for dreams and that what happened in the past may happen again, dreaming about worries would seem to be a normal phenomenon.

What if we have this all backwards? Could a sleep disruption be a cause of mental illness rather than a symptom or a maintenance factor?

One study of veterans of the Iraq war looked at the relationship between insomnia and PTSD. Now this is just one study so the results are preliminary and more studies may not get the same result, still, the results were surprising.

What they found was that for these veterans the insomnia came BEFORE the PTSD symptoms. Insomnia 4 months after returning from deployment predicted the development of PTSD symptoms at 8 months post-deployment (Wright, Et al., 2011.) It seems likely that an increase in anxiety resulting from being in a risky situation could cause sleep disruptions and the result, much later, would be episodes of mental health problems.

Their suggestion and there was a lot more to this study was that sleep functioned as an emotional regulator. So insomnia may be both a symptom of, and a cause of, mental illness. An increase in insomnia predicted who would develop depression as much as three years later.

Good self-care, including a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep hygiene has long been an integral part of relapse prevention in substance abuse. We are also seeing that relapse prevention is an important part of mental health recovery.

What if sleep changes could be an effective predictor of mental health relapse? In what ways might we be able to improve our sleep and thereby improve our mental health?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

What are Lucid Dreams? Do Lucid Dreams cure Nightmares?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Dreams and Nightmares

Dreams and Nightmares
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Can Lucid Dreams cure nightmares?

Lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer knows that they are dreaming but does not awaken. Experienced Lucid dreamers are able to control the content and direction of the dream.

Lucid Dreams have been the subject of discussion for centuries. Various Lucid Dream techniques and dream practices are a part of Dream Yoga and Tibetan Buddhist practices but were largely dismissed by western practitioners. In recent years hard scientific evidence that Lucid Dreaming is occurring has been accumulating.

The goal in Lucid Dreaming is to manipulate the dreams so as to solve problems and reduce distressing elements of the dream. If the dreamer can recognize that they are dreaming they can become an active participant in the dream, creating and acting out events in the dream they wish would occur.

In a previous post, I wrote about how Nightmares can Maintain PTSD, most treatment for nightmares has involved talking about or rewriting dreams while awake. Lucid dreaming creates an opportunity to work on altering distressing dreams as they occur by taking actions to alter the course of the Lucid Dream.

Lucid Dreaming was used effectively in one 2006 study to reduce the frequency of nightmares.

While therapy has been applied to interpreting dreams and to coping with distressing elements of dreams after they occur, lucid dreaming is a tool for altering the dream as it is in progress.

Becoming aware that you are dreaming has also been used by artists and people seeking to improve their creativity by increasing the ability to move visions in the dream world into the awake world.

Most dream content is lost in the morning as soon as the dreamer moves or begins their morning rituals. Learning to recognize that you are dreaming and to continue to hold and process the dream upon awakening can increase the amount of the content of your dream the conscious mind retains.

Keeping a notebook by the bed and writing down all you can of the dream immediately upon awakening helps keep the dream from evaporating upon rising.

Experienced Lucid dreamers can review previous dreams and return to finish a previous dream. Lessons learned while dreaming can then be retained and applied to the waking life.

Researchers have found that things seen in the dream state will be believed even when they defy the laws of physics as we know them. While asleep the dreamer is willing to believe what they see, but upon awakening, they are quickly aware that what they saw in the dream is not possible. In the dream state seeing, really is believing.

Related to Lucid Dreaming is the phenomenon of False Awakening.  In False Awakening the dreamer dreams they have awakened but the dream continues. This continues until the dreamer realizes this must still be a dream or until they really do awaken.

Related Posts include Sleep Paralysis and Trauma Steals your Sleep.

Have you been able to recall your dreams? Have you ever tried to participate in the dream and alter the course of events? If you have had a Lucid dreaming experience or a false awakening please leave a comment.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Does sleep paralysis cause or is it caused by mental illness?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

More on Sleep paralysis.

Sleep paralysis.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Remember this is written from a therapist’s point of view. If there is any chance that you or someone you know has a medical problem, have it checked out by a doctor first. But if the doctor finds nothing medically wrong with you that does not mean you are going crazy. It might mean that you can benefit from some counseling to help you better cope with stress.

Many people who experience sleep paralysis, hypnogogic hallucinations or “exploding head syndrome,” think they are going crazy or fatally ill. Knowing that these are explainable phenomena and have simple treatment can reduce the concerns. Sleep Paralysis and many related sleep problems are often triggered by stress. More stress, good or bad stress, and the chances of an attack increases.

People who become fearful of another occurrence of Sleep Paralysis can “prime the pump” and increase the risks of a second bout in the same way people who experience panic attacks begin to worry about having another episode.

If clients describe these events as dreams the doctor is likely to reassure them that it is normal. Patients who explain these events as demons, spirits or believe they actually saw a supernatural being are likely to be prescribed a psychiatric medication. Antipsychotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications (Benzodiazepines) are all believed to increase the incidence of Sleep Paralysis and Hypnogogic Hallucinations (Gangdev, 2004.)

Other things that have been reported to increase the risks of having an episode of Sleep Paralysis include being physically ill, such as having the flu, watching or experiencing emotionally upsetting events, such as having an argument.

If the paralysis or hallucinations only occur when going to sleep and waking up they are most likely sleep-related and not the result of a mental illness. Gangdev, in his article, asked the question: “It is possible that a small proportion of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia who experience hallucinations may actually be experiencing escaped REM-related dream activity during the wakeful state?”

There is a significant overlap between sleep paralysis and Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy includes not only sleep paralysis but hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, daytime sleepiness and Cataplexy (sudden unexplained loss of muscle tone.)

Sleep Paralysis without any cataplexy or daytime sleepiness is not considered to be associated with Narcolepsy and is referred to as Isolated Sleep Paralysis (ISP.) Penn reported that 16 % of medical students reported at least one episode of sleep paralysis. That makes me think that long hours and sleep deprivation may be a major cause of many of these events.

Sleep Paralysis is far more common in African-Americans and in one study of Nigerian subjects more than half had experienced ISP. It is also common in Japanese Subjects.

People who have a Sleep Paralysis event find it helpful to get up move about and make sure they are fully awake before attempting to return to bed. People who do not get out of bed have an increased risk of having multiple episodes of sleep paralysis in the same night. Sleeping flat on your back looking up at the ceiling (supine position) is much more likely to cause a Sleep Paralysis experience than sleeping on your side.

Knowing that episodes of Sleep Paralysis and Hypnogogic Hallucinations are relatively common and most often harmless can help someone cope with these experiences.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Sleep Paralysis – What causes it? Is it related to PTSD or demons?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Sleep paralysis.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Is Sleep Paralysis related to PTSD or the supernatural?

Imagine awakening suddenly in the middle of the night. Sitting on your chest is a demon; there are ghosts, dead people or spirits standing around your bed. You try to scream but nothing comes from your throat. You would run if you could but your legs won’t work. You are awake and paralyzed. Looking up at the demons you are helpless to do anything beyond saying a silent prayer inside your head. You are experiencing Sleep Paralysis.

Sleep Paralysis is one of those unusual problems. This condition is especially terrifying to someone who has the disorder.  If you have a belief in the supernatural you may dread falling asleep.

Sleep Paralysis has long been more the province of legends and the supernatural than included in the area of mental health. This experience has been connected to many other worldly phenomena. Similar experiences were described during the Salem witchcraft trials.

Today we have a scientific explanation that satisfies some, some of the time, but are we sure?

In Sleep Paralysis you can see, move your eyes and breathe, but the rest of your body is unable to move.  Some episodes of Sleep Paralysis last seconds. The average is six minutes. Occasional an episode of sleep paralysis will last longer than 6 minutes or on rare occasion’s hours.

Many people with Sleep Paralysis, up to 30% also have a history of Panic Attacks. It is more common among those with PTSD or anxiety disorders. Sleep Paralysis is also most common among those with minority status, especially African-Americans (Sharpless et al 2010.)

Other researchers have suggested that dissociation may be related to the old or “Lizard brains” freeze response to threat or danger. The same mechanism might explain the inability to move despite overwhelming terror found in Sleep Paralysis. Fear and anxiety may both cause and be the consequence of Sleep Paralysis.

Sleep paralysis is more common with overtired or sleep deprived individuals. It is also associated with taking Antidepressants, Benzodiazepines and some other medications. Ohayon et al., 1999 (Cited by Sharpless) also suggested a relationship between SSRI’s and Sleep Paralysis but Sharpless did not find a connection.

Sleep paralysis can occur when falling asleep or when awakening from sleep. Its main characteristic is not being able to move for an extended period of time. This condition occurs naturally during REM sleep but we don’t know we are becoming paralyzed when we are asleep.

The episodes of paralysis while awake are most often accompanied by very vivid hallucinations. The more vivid the hallucinations the more terrifying the Sleep Paralysis. Sometimes the person will experience hearing sounds. Even when experiencing the full symptoms of Sleep Paralysis, both the visions and the inability to move, many people describe the experience as a “dream” (Fukuda et al, 2000.)

If the hallucinations occur when falling asleep they are called Hypnogogic. Hallucinations that occur when awakening are called Hypnopompic.

Sleep paralysis may be connected with a physical disorder such as Narcolepsy. Reports suggest that those who hear sounds are most likely to also have narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis has also been associated with Migraines. If this occurs more than once or causes significant distress it is wise to seek medical attention.

Sleep paralysis is more likely to occur when someone has moved to a new location, is under stress or has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol.

Mental health practitioners, therapists, and counselors are mostly concerned with two relationships between sleep and mental health. Is the problem with sleep caused by a mental illness? Symptoms of depression include changes in sleep and appetite. Depression can be seen as the cause of a sleep problem.

Sometimes sleep issues can create symptoms that are diagnosed as mental illness. Nightmares play a role in maintaining depression and PTSD.

Beyond those two alternatives, most other sleep issues are in the providence of medical doctors. There are plenty of sleep problems that are in the International classification of sleep disorders that are not directly included in the DSM.

The following are past posts on connections between sleep and mental health issues.

Getting Rid of Nightmares that Maintain Depression and PTSD

Trauma Steals Your Sleep 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Getting rid of Nightmares that maintain Depression and PTSD

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Nightmares maintain depression and PTSD.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Then Come Nightmares.

Frequent nightmares play a major role in maintaining depression, PTSD, and other mental health problems. It is common for people to think that they need to cure the PTSD or Depression and then the nightmares will go away.  The opposite approach is more likely to be productive.

Most treatments for PTSD do not target the nightmares. There are treatments for nightmares available, some as brief as three sessions. These have been shown to help reduce nightmares and promote recovery from other problems.

Treatment for nightmares has been shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD and depression.

Children also suffer from nightmare related problems. Children who are fearful because of a family problem, moves, divorces or separation develop symptoms of mental illness. “Bad dreams” are the result of the child’s out of control fear and are at the root of many childhood attention or conduct disturbances. When the child gets a good nights sleep they behave, when they don’t sleep they don’t pay attention, and they don’t mind.

Nightmares are associated with high levels of anxiety. They are fear based.

Most people who have PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder or any other diagnosis also have a co-occurring anxiety problem. Now sometimes anxiety is good, it protects you from danger. But when the anxiety circuits do not turn off the anxiety gets to be the problem rather than the solution.

We also see lots of disturbing dreams in clients recovering from substance abuse problems. Substance abuse counselors report clients sharing about drug using dreams. We have some simple interventions around those issues, but not much research has been done in this area because substance abusers, people with Bipolar Disorder and people with psychosis are routinely excluded from research studies. I believe that the treatment for nightmares will work for anyone.

The solution is to tone down that fear circuit.

Before I describe a treatment method for reducing nightmares – a word of caution, working on nightmares, especially those that maintain PTSD, can be a painful process. It is best to work with a therapist or other professional person, and you need to make sure you have a strong support system in place in case you have difficulty coping.  For more on support systems see “How to develop a support system” or “How supportive is your support system?”

Taming nightmares involves three steps.

1. Learn relaxation methods.

Nightmares are fear based, and the fear persists after you awake. Sitting thinking about the scary part of the dream might reinforce the nightmare and result in memorizing your nightmare. Fear and relaxations are not compatible. The more you relax, the less fear you will have. As you get better at relaxing your fear shrinks and your dreams become less traumatic.

2. Learn sleep hygiene

Keeping regular bedtimes, reducing or eliminating caffeine especially in the hours before bedtime and other efforts to improve sleep naturally are helpful. It is important to allow plenty of time for sleep.

People who stay up late and get up early gradually become sleep deprived. Lack of sleep aggravates all sorts of mental health issues. Insufficient sleep increases the possibilities that you will be suddenly awakened and will remember the “bad dreams.”

During sleep the brain keeps working on our issues, memories are consolidated and thoughts organized. We only call dreams “nightmares” if we awake during the dream and have memories of it. Better sleep can result in fewer nightmares.

3. Begin treatment of the nightmares once you are relaxed and well rested.

The process of “reframing” nightmares makes them less scary and more manageable. Reframing or reprocessing is helpful for intrusive daytime thoughts as well as for nightmares.  The application of this to reducing or eliminating nightmares was described by Rhudy et al. in their 2010 article on CBT treatment for nightmares in trauma-exposed people, where they called it “ERRT” therapy.  Ben Furman has also described a similar approach for use with children.

Disclaimer- Rhudy et al.’s study, like most research in the mental health area, excluded substance abusers, people with mania or psychosis and probably screened out all people with Bipolar Disorders. The sample size was also low with about twenty people per group. There is so much overlap between substance abuse, bipolar disorder and PTSD in the clients I see these studies leave out exactly the people who most need new effective treatments. That said – the ideas appear to be fully appropriate for clients with co-occurring disorders.

Here is how it works:

To reprocess or reframe nightmares do the following things:

A. Write out as full a description of the nightmare as possible.

Getting it down on paper tames the story and makes it manageable. It also allows you to go back over it and add missing details. In step C you will be rewriting it with added insight.

Remember that it is a normal process for your brain to use your dreams to make sense of your experiences. In dreams, your brain will turn the experience around and examine it from all sides. Your brain may also play out multiple alternative endings for the event. It is not the dream that is the problem; it is the connection between the dream and fear that makes this a nightmare.

If you have several versions of the dream try to write them all down.

B. Read the nightmare story aloud.

Listen for the themes in the story. What are the fear messages? I think it is helpful to be able to read this to a therapist or other support person who can keep you from being overwhelmed and can provide some insight into things you may not immediately see. Just don’t make someone listen to your nightmare that is not emotionally able to hear the story.

C. Re-script the nightmare.

What is the expected ending? What is an alternative ending? Write out the story this time with a new less scary ending. Read the new version out loud. Has seeing a new possible ending tamed the fear?

Furman described a story, not sure where it originated, in which a grandmother applied the sort of approach to her grandson’s nightmare.

The child came to grandmother scared because of a nightmare.

“Grandma, ” he said, “I had a nightmare.”

“There are no such things as nightmares,” The grandmother said “Only goodmares. All dreams should have happy endings. The problem is you keep waking up before the end. What is a good ending that could have happened?”

In this story, the child then works with his grandmother to find new happy endings for these scary dreams. The result – fewer scary dreams and less fear when bad dreams occurred.

Warring – in people with PTSD who were treated with re-scripting the fear declined first, anger later and the frequency and length of nightmares were the last things to decline.

Talk to your care provider about this process. If you try this process, see if it works. Learn to relax more. Tame your sleep. Then tame your nightmares. If you have had success in changing your nightmares ending please share your success with the rest of us.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Trauma Steals Your Sleep

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

sleep

Child sleeping.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Trauma alters your sleep.

Trauma, especially the kind that produces Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) alters the brain in a host of ways. One major result of trauma is a change in sleep patterns. Those changes in sleep result in a host of other mental and behavioral changes. Children who are abused or neglected or witness a traumatic event have problems sleeping. Rates of sleep disorders in abused children and adults with PTSD range from 50% to 90%. The majority of all people who experience trauma have a sleep disruption that causes other mental health problems.

While the trauma and the resulting change in sleep often go unreported, other changes in behavior get noticed. These issues frequently follow child victims of trauma into adulthood. Adult victims of trauma have the same types of outcomes and they or others may think they are just acting childish. There are reasons the brain changes and things that can be done about those changes.

Not everyone who witnesses a traumatic event develops PTSD- we know that. There is a whole area of study on the topic of resilience and why some people can bounce back and others become “traumatized.” Even people with very high resilience can develop PTSD if they experience enough trauma often enough. Children who are abused, molested or neglected are at high risk, so are women who are abused and anyone witnessing the horrors of modern warfare often enough is likely to develop PTSD.

One result of exposure to trauma is an increase in attention to things that look like the cause of the trauma. We call this hypervigilance and many times it is a good thing.

Say you walk into the street and are hit by a car. In the future, you will be much more careful. If it happens to you as a child you may grow up to be afraid to cross streets. You may even become fearful when your children need to walk to school and feel the need to go with them to keep them safe.

A woman who is beaten and raped by some men wearing a particular color of clothing, something gang related or a sports team’s logo, will be very careful when she sees that style of clothing again. This may keep her safe if she avoids dangerous situations. But sometimes the increased vigilance becomes a problem.

When someone becomes afraid to leave the house or to go where there are crowds because that feared person can’t be seen? What if they become afraid of all people? What if a dangerous person changes their clothing and they do not get recognized because that woman is looking out for only one clothing style? The vigilance is now turned up too high and focused on too little.

A child who is punished for a poor score on a test may try harder the next time. But if the punishment is excessive – if it turns to abuse – that child may do anything to avoid taking a test – for the rest of their life!

How does this excess vigilance, which started out to protect the person begin to rob them of sleep and undermine their mental health?

The human body and brain move through a series of sleep stages during the night. Some stages are deep and some are shallow. Most people reach a shallow stage and then fall back asleep. Not someone with PTSD.

Children with PTSD as a result of abuse have difficulty falling asleep. Their sleep is shallower all through the night because of the hypervigilance. They wake up many times during the night. When they wake up they become fearful. Is something dangerous about to happen? Was there a sound that woke them up?

Children with disrupted sleep as a result of a past trauma are more likely to wet the bed. They are also more likely to get up and check the house to see if they are safe. They may sleepwalk. They may have sudden awakenings as a result of the smallest of noise and it may be hard to get to sleep again after the awakenings. They often have nightmares and sometimes night terrors when they awaken suddenly screaming in fear.

Now a lack of sleep at night makes the person with PTSD very tired the next day. They often get diagnosed with ADHD or Bipolar disorder. I question sometimes, with the clients I see, if a large amount of trauma they experienced in childhood did not cause the brain to grow and connections to form that resulted in the Bipolar condition. Since there is a genetic component to many mental illnesses, and children who have the genetic risk factor may also have parents who have a mental illness. This is not an argument for taking more children away from parents. What I am suggesting is that we need more early intervention. Kids who grow up with PTSD may have trouble being appropriate parents and the problem gets passed on before it is recognized.

During the REM sleep stage, memories are moved from short-term memory to long-term memory. Poor sleep can result in things that were learned one day being forgotten when the person gets up the next morning. Lack of sleep can also result in conditions that look like psychosis.  Staying awake too long by choice or from PTSD results in the brain making things up. Before long you can have problems telling if something is real or if you are dreaming it up. You may walk around all day more than half asleep.

People who are traumatized, with or without PTSD and who have a sleep disruption, as a result, are much more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs. In many drug treatment programs clients who report trauma in the past exceed 50%, sometimes the rate approaches 100%.

When the thoughts of the past keep you awake at night it appears to make sense to take something to help you sleep. Many people turn to Alcohol which does not make things better, it makes them worse.

As a person drinks more the body develops a tolerance to the alcohol. It takes more and more alcohol to knock the drinker out. Being unconscious is not the same thing as sleeping. This is one reason a person who drinks and passes out is so tired the next morning.

So there you have it. Trauma especially in large doses, the PTSD kind, results in poor sleep. The poor sleep results in lots of symptoms that look like other problems. The treatment of choice here is to work with someone who specializes in treating the Trauma or PTSD and at the same time make getting lots of good sleep a priority.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.