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Sleep Disorders

Restlessness Due to Vivid, Detailed Dreams

11/07/2011

Question:

I go to sleep normally, usually without too much trouble, but 3-4 times a week I wake up feeling exhausted. My dreams are extremely detailed... when i wake up I can recall almost all specifics- people and the clothes they are wearing, specific locations, things people say.... I feel like my brain is working very hard while I sleep.

Additionally, in my dream I am sometimes able to have an active role in what is going on. I become aware that I am dreaming while I am still dreaming... sometimes "deciding" what will happen next. Or I can pause my dream and "rewind"... going back to a previous part of the dream to review what I had been dreaming (so I can tell my dream to my partner in the morning)-- all while still sleeping. This happens randomly, and I don`t think I can control when I can come into the dream. Sometimes I wake up in the night to relieve myself... when I go back to bed I can continue right where I left off.

My dreams aren`t usually frightening. They don`t have story lines. A bunch of mini events that are all put into a night`s sleep.

I`ve had these kinds of vivid dreams for a while... not every night. Varying detail and duration. This has only been an issue for the past 2 months in which the dreams seem to last all night. I`ve recently tried Nyquil, which seems to give me a little better sleep, but I still have the lengthy dreams.

Could this be due to things such as diet, weather, etc? I am in my 20s ... consider myself healthy. No drugs, occasional wine at dinner. While I am inquiring about the lack-of-sleep issue, I`m also interested in insight related to the type of extremely specific, detailed, vivid dreams I`ve been having.

Thank you for your help.

Answer:

Your question is very interesting. It describes a combination of three dream-related issues that are mixed together, namely: "Excessive dreaming," "Vivid dreaming," and "Lucid dreaming." "Excessive dreaming" is a feeling that a dream lasts throughout the night, and that dreaming continues for a very long time. This is different from "Vivid dreaming," where there is abundance of details that carry high emotional burden. Vivid dreams don't need to be long but they can be. When dream related emotions are extreme, a vivid dream is often described as a nightmare. On the other hand, most excessive dreaming is devoid of emotions. Excessive dreaming includes activities that are continuous, trivial, or physical in nature such as repetitive housework, or endless walking through snow or water. In general, women seem to report excessive dreaming more than men.

Usually there is no clinical abnormality in people who have either excessive dreams or vivid dreams; also, there is no specific treatment that is indicated. Cognitive therapy, hypnosis, relaxation, and medications have not shown any benefit in treating these conditions. Rarely, a pathologic reason, such a brain lesion, may underlie these symptoms. But, again, this is very rare. Medications can be responsible for vivid dreams, as well. When stopping certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants, vivid dreams may occur. Also, when taking short acting version of these drugs in the morning, vivid dreams may happen at night.

In addition to having both vivid and excessive dreaming, you seem to have the ability to play an active role in your dreams. This latter part is called "Lucid Dreaming." During sleep you appear to become aware that you are dreaming and you are able to change the content, speed and direction of your dream events. Some people train themselves to become lucid dreamers in order to combat certain repetitive nightmares.

All of this is interesting but, although not stated, your main concern may be the core of your first sentence: Waking up exhausted. Dreaming should not be exhausting. If you do wake up tired, and you have excessive dreams, there may be something that is interrupting your sleep. Several external causes of sleep interruption can be discovered simply by thinking about your sleep surroundings. A good sleep environment should be cool, dark and quiet. Other causes for sleep interruptions can be internal and related to certain illnesses. Pain and anxiety, for example, can interrupt your sleep. Other conditions, such as periodic limb movement disorder and sleep apnea, are primary sleep disorders that can affect sleep continuity, as well. Sleep interruption can cause your dreams to appear vivid, and can cause you to feel un-refreshed no matter how long you sleep.

An evaluation for sleep interrupters requires a careful evaluation by a Sleep Specialist. A list of sleep centers across the country can be found on the web site of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This way you can find a sleep center near you and start the evaluation process. I wish you most pleasant dreams.

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Response by:

Ziad  Shaman, MD Ziad Shaman, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University