Nightmares make me afraid of falling asleep

The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:

I’m a man in my late 60s. For many years, I’ve had a bad dream almost every night, and each time my wife wakes me up.

My dreams involve frightening events like someone chasing me, a monstrous person choking me, my almost falling from a high rooftop and water engulfing me. I’ve tried to avoid having such dreams by thinking about something happy and drinking a bit more alcohol before going to bed. However, these things don’t work at all. I rarely remember having a good dream. Sometimes I’m even afraid to fall asleep.

I retired about four years ago from my job at a company after reaching mandatory retirement age. I was devoted to my work at the company but had many difficult times concerning work and human relations. I think quite a few people held a grudge for things I did, and I feel bad about it now.

Currently, I work as a temporary employee for another company. I enjoy my life now, I’m healthy and my relationship with my family is satisfactory.

I understand my problem sounds childish, but I’m very worried about it. Please tell me what causes my bad dreams and how I should cope with them.

B, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Dear Mr. B:

Having a bad dream almost every night is very hard. Reading your letter, I saw several things that I feel may be keys to solving your problem.

First, you should know that aging and drinking alcohol degrade the quality of sleep. Alcohol prevents people from sleeping deeply.

We usually dream when sleeping lightly in a condition called REM sleep. In your case, the quality of your sleep has probably been degraded by a physiological phenomenon caused by aging. Drinking alcohol may aggravate the problem, and worrying about having a bad dream and about the relationship between bad dreams and past incidents may have resulted in a vicious cycle.

Also, you need to check if you suffer from sleep apnea syndrome. In winter, keep your bedroom comfortable through such measures as using a humidifier.

To sleep well, try to remain physically active. I recommend you stretch and take a walk in the evening. As your relationship with your family and your health are good, why don’t you try to stop relating past incidents with your dreams to relieve your anxiety?

Junko Umihara, psychiatrist

(from Jan. 27, 2016, issue)Speech

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