Why Stress Dreams Happen And How You Can Cope With Them
Published on 8th February, 2023
Nothing is worse than going to bed stressed and having that stress carried into your dreams. Dreams caused by stress or anxiety can be realistic, intense, and distressing. These dreams usually occur during REM sleep and focus on what you worry about during the daytime (Soffer-Dudek, 2017). These dreams are commonly referred to as stress dreams.
Stress dreams are usually unsettling or just slightly bothersome. Whatever your stress dream is, you will most likely wake up feeling unpleasant and unrested. Stress dreams can not only disrupt your sleep, but they can also leave lingering anxiety throughout the day. They may even make you feel nervous about going to bed at night.
Read on to learn how to recognise the signs of a stress dream and discover tips on potentially preventing and coping with these dreams.
What is a stress dream?
Most normal dreams are mundane and can range from pleasant to unmemorable. On the other hand, nightmares are characterised by intense feelings of terror or fear. There are a few ways in which stress dreams differ from normal dreams and nightmares.
Unlike normal dreams or nightmares, stress dreams stimulate frustration, anxiety, dread, or worry — often, these feelings are not intense enough to jolt you awake. Feelings of anxiety can linger after waking and worsen if the source of the anxiety remains unresolved.
Stress dreams might be related to everyday stressors such as:
● Relationship issues
● Money worries or financial issues
● Health issues
● Daily life stresses
● Children and Parenting issues
The worries you have during the day are often at the centre of stress dreams. A stressful work project might cause you to dream that you forgot to complete it or something went wrong.
However, sometimes stress dreams contain content that has nothing to do with your day-to-day routine. You may experience common dreams relating to topics such as falling, being chased, losing teeth, death, infidelity, being attacked or being late (Schredl et al., 2010).
How to prevent stress dreams?
Although it is difficult to completely eliminate your stress and stress-associated dreams, there are some steps you can take to manage and reduce stress to ensure a better night's sleep. Some of the steps you can take are:
1. Improving your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is important not only in reducing stress but also for your overall health. Your sleep environment should always be comfortable, calming, and free of any stress triggers. Avoid any device screens an hour before bed, and try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
2. Use relaxation techniques
Relaxation methods can help reduce stress and anxiety and prevent those feelings from carrying on throughout the day. If you wake up from a stressful dream, you can use relaxation methods such as mindful meditation, box breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation. You can also try yoga, journaling, daily meditation, or biofeedback for ongoing anxiety management (Gillette, 2022).
3. Figuring out your source of stress or anxiety
Identifying the source of anxiety in your life is essential. Emotional regulation and self-awareness may help you process your emotional states while awake. As a result, you may be less likely to experience anxiety while sleeping. The intensity and frequency of stress dreams may be reduced if you address real-life challenges effectively. Individual counselling for adults in Singapore can help recognise your source of stress or anxiety.
Everybody deserves a good night’s sleep as good sleep promotes positive experiences. So if stress dreams are causing you to wake up feeling anxious, you might want to look into what is disrupting your sleep.
Thankfully, several methods can help you improve your sleep, ranging from individual effort like fixing your own bedtime routine, to getting external help from psychotherapy services. A mental health professional may help you to recognise your negative thoughts and replace them with effective coping strategies.
Soffer-Dudek, N. (2017). Arousal in nocturnal consciousness: How dream- and sleep-experiences may inform us of poor sleep quality, stress, and psychopathology. Front Psychol. 2017;8:733. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00733
Schredl M, Ciric P, Götz S, Wittmann L. (2010). Typical dreams: stability and gender differences. J Psychol. 2004;138(6):485-94. doi:10.3200/JRLP.138.6.485-494