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Anxiety dreams: What do they mean and how to deal with them?

It’s difficult to drift off when you’re feeling anxious or upset about something, and when you do your quality of sleep probably won’t be great.

Dr Ramlakhan explained: “Anxiety dreams tend to be triggered by the way we’re feeling before we go to sleep.

“If we feel anxious or on-edge, it can result in us waking up feeling distressed.”

Anxiety dreams tend to have a theme such as being chased, falling, flying, being unprepared for an exam, or being unable to find a toilet.

Other themes could be losing a family member, a suitcase that hasn’t been packed, or something embarrassing such as forgetting to put your trousers on before leaving the house.

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Bad dreams can be categorised into more specific categories, and the sleep stage in which the dream occurs helps you to determine which it is.

Anxiety dreams occur during REM sleep, and so do punishment dreams, nightmares, and post-trauma dreams.

American sleep researcher Charles Fisher and his colleagues suggested that distressing dreams in REM sleep contain the feeling of weight on the chest and the sense of helplessness.

Dreams that happen during the NREM phase are considered night terrors, and they contain an intense or agonising dread.

How do you deal with anxiety dreams?

To anxiety dreams, you need to make yourself feel safe and relaxed before sleeping.

Dr Ramlakhan said: “We sleep well when we feel safe. But the virus and new restrictions have caused a lot of fear and anxiety which can affect the Sympathetic Nervous System.

“The Sympathetic Nevous System is the part of the nervous system which regulates the body’s unconscious actions and our fight-flight-or-freeze response – so we end up living in survival mode.

“Everyday anxieties, including work or lifestyle can activate this survival mode feeling. “

Don’t worry, there are four ways to reduce the likelihood of having anxiety dreams.

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A healthy daytime routine

It’s important to keep yourself physically healthy anyway, but this will help you to avoid anxiety dreams.

Dr Ramlakhan advised: “Stay active, well-hydrated and eat well.

“Ensure that you include a source of protein in your breakfast – such as eggs, nuts or nut butter to help stabilise blood sugar levels which is good for anxiety and helps to provide the amino acids to make the hormones of wellbeing – oxytocin and serotonin – and the sleep hormone melatonin.

“Eat your evening meals earlier in the day to avoid impacting on sleep quality. “

A pre-bed routine

Dr Ramlakhan said: “Try a calm pre-bed anxiety with breathing techniques, meditation, or pre-sleep yoga for just 10-20 minutes before you get into bed or write a journal.

“Don’t watch the news before bed and cut back on caffeine, alcohol and stimulants including excess refined sugars.”

Manage the fear response

One of the most important steps to getting a good nights sleep without being woken by an anxiety dream is managing the fear response.

Dr Ramlakhan said: “Right now there is a collective pervasive feeling of fear and anxiety and while we need to know what’s going on and how to keep ourselves and loved ones safe and well, we also need to stop ourselves spiralling into significant mental ill health by consciously choosing to also notice what is good in our life – no matter how small.

“Avoid watching the news and going onto social media constantly.

“Make conscious decisions about how often you’ll look at both.

“Consciously choose to watch programmes and read books that uplift, inspire and make you laugh.”

Your bedroom is your sanctuary

Dr Ramlakhan said: “If possible, avoid working in your bedroom and never in bed. Keep your bedroom, clean, well-ventilated and free of clutter.

“Use scented candles and oils such as lavender and eucalyptus to create a haven of peace and calm.

“This is your safe space and the place where you go to rest and rejuvenate.

“Ideally, leave electronics out of the bedroom and use an old fashioned clock instead of your phone for time keeping.

“Avoid checking the time when you wake up during the night.”

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  • Posted on October 6, 2020