Home HealthTopics Health Centers Reference Library Research
Join us on Facebook Join us on Facebook Share on Facebook

Sleep Disorders

Problems Sleeping

08/25/2009

Question:

I have a problem not sure how to get rid of this. I have problems trying to sleep. I close my eyes and instantly I`m dreaming of someone trying to get in my house, open my eyes, and look around. I hear and see nothing, look at the clock, and its only been like maybe 5 mins of trying to sleep. I close my eyes again it repeats all over again sometimes the same thing or something new like bad things happeneing to my kids. I feel sometimes like im going crazy. Why is this happening? I try clearing my mind of everything and still nothing works. This has been going pretty much my whole life. I`m sick of being so run down and tired from not getting enough sleep. My dreams, or whatever they are, are controling my life. I am scared and paranoid that something is going to happen to me or my family. I want this to end. I have not talked to a doctor. I am too afriad he might think I`m crazy. My husband says I`m not and that its just a dream, but I can`t take it. I don`t know what to do. Please help me understand what is wrong with me. Thanks

Answer:

Your problem sounds extremely stressful. I am sorry this has been going on for so long. Without further information, it will be difficult to tell you for sure what is causing your symptoms. It's possible this may be a simple variant of Rapid Eye Movement (also called REM or dream) sleep, or a sign of something more complicated such as a sleep disorder or other disorder.

REM sleep, or "dream sleep," is often irrational and is not under our control. Typically, REM sleep does not occur right with sleep onset unless an individual is severely sleep deprived or has a sleep disorder. REM sleep usually occurs around 80-90 minutes into sleep and then recurs about every 1.5 to 2 hours during the night. REM sleep phases grow longer in the latter part of the sleep cycle and the majority of nightmares and dreams typically occur from the middle of the night onward. So while unusual, it's possible that your symptoms could be related to an abnormality of your dream sleep cycle.

Other primary sleep problems that could present this way include a nightmare disorder, sleep-related hallucinations (often seen in narcolepsy, a condition where excessive daytime sleepiness is present) and night terrors. Nightmares are usually accompanied by a sensation of terror and awakening with complete recall of the dream in a frightened state. Again, these would usually occur later in the night. Sleep-related hallucinations can occur by themselves or in the setting of narcolepsy, which is usually associated with other symptoms. Night terrors on the other hand, tend to occur in children much more than in adults. They take place during non-REM (non dream) sleep. Although the individual may arouse and scream, they are unaware of their surroundings and unresponsive to attempts at comfort. They generally do not recall the event when they awaken.

Aside from sleep disorders, there are other possible explanations for your symptoms. These might include an underlying psychiatric problem, such as schizophrenia, which can be associated with hallucinations. Depression or anxiety can also influence dreams and may present as nightmares. Certain medications have been reported to increase the frequency of nightmares, such as certain heart medications, antihistamines, antidepressants or medications used to treat Parkinson's disease. It is important to discuss any medication changes with your physician first, as many medications can not be stopped abruptly without side effects.

I would certainly talk to your doctor about these events. If you are truly dreaming at sleep onset this could be a sign of lack of adequate sleep or other sleep disorders as mentioned above. Otherwise, a careful review of your medical problems and medications would be helpful. This can only be sorted out with a full history and medical evaluation and you may need a referral to a sleep specialist. Best of luck!

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Aneesa M Das, MD Aneesa M Das, MD
Assistant Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University