Nightmares on Anxiety Sleep

October 17, 2012 Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

Last night I woke at 2:45 AM from a nightmare drenched in a cold sweat. In the dream, I was trapped at home with my kids, while something strange was going on outside. We had to hide, lest we be shot at through the windows. The worse part was we weren't quite sure what was happening, so we did not know what to do to stop it.

All of my nightmares are similar to this one. I am in the middle of a war zone, hiding-- knowing that at any minute, I will be found by the enemy.

A nightmare is an unpleasant dream that induces intense mental, emotional and physical reactions. Nightmares can come from physical issues, like sleeping in a weird position, eating before bed, and having to go to the bathroom. They can also be trigger by stress and anxiety during the day and a history of trauma.*

Often dreams link to realities of everyday life. Nightmares are no different. They are single images that our minds link together to make a story. (Images from the day, our memory or Tv shows.) The dominant subject of our days often comes out in our dreams for better or for worse. Psychologist used to think that nightmares were a way to work out our fears, but more recent research suggests that nightmares increase anxiety. This makes sense as nightmares often disrupt the sleep, and lack of sleep is one of the biggest triggers of anxiety.

The Meaning of Nightmares

The meaning of few of our dreams and nightmares are immediately clear. More often our dream are cryptic. When trying to discover what nightmares mean, it is helpful to look at where the emotion in the dream is. Is there intense shame, embarrassment, vulnerability, betrayal, frustration, helplessness, pain, surprise? Even if the content of the dream resembles nothing from your life, these themes are usually present.

For my nightmare above, the intense emotions were "vulnerability." I am vulnerable to that something bigger and stronger and meaner than me that can and will hurt me any moment. This relates to how I feel about fear in general and usually suggests to me that there is something in my life that I feel is out of my control and/or that I feel like a victim of something. (It has nothing to do with a war situation or danger outside my home. Thanks God! But I can usually see something in my life that has been stressing me out that I ought to address.)

Do you want to get rid of nightmares?

I know a safe way to do it. But you have to believe it is possible. Both kids and adults can be taught this. (Kids have an easier time actually!) You start by changing the nightmares as soon as you wake up with the awareness that you were dreaming something horrible. Still in all of your fear and sweat, close your eyes and form a new scenario: fix it, make it easier, save yourself and everybody, weaken villains, give yourself superpowers, fly, make something good happen.

If you have repeated nightmares, tell yourself before you go to sleep that you can be aware during the nightmare and change it (whilst still asleep). Decide how you are going to change it right before you go to bed. Bringing this consciousness in before falling asleep and being excited about it, helps bring the consciousness in while you are asleep. It usually takes changing a dream once or twice and often the nightmares stops recurring.

*When nightmares are traumatic flashbacks

To ease night flashbacks, it is prudent to work with a mental health professional. As the effects of the trauma is lessened, so too will be the flashback nightmares.

Do you get nightmares? How much and how often? What do you do?

By Jodi Lobozzo Aman

I blog here: Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace
and here: Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog,
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APA Reference
Lobozzo, J. (2012, October 17). Nightmares on Anxiety Sleep, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

Easing symptoms of PTSD: Nightmares, Panic, and General Anxiety | Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog
October, 24 2012 at 9:06 am

[...] have a history of trauma can feel sad, suicidal, anxious, angry, disoriented, have chronic pain, nightmares, and difficulty in relationships. Sometimes they can have flashbacks- which is when a memory is [...]

November, 3 2012 at 8:09 pm

Or think of someone who comes and saves us :)

June, 12 2013 at 12:30 pm

I just found your blog- thank you or writing it! I have anxiety disorder which I am trying to deal with, with a CBT therapist. I have good and bad days-sometimes during the bad times I experience really horrific dreams. I am so tired of myself and living with anxiety that any bit of information is a help. I will try the techniques you have described.

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