A journalist contacted me earlier this year wanting to discuss the increase in nightmares her readers had been describing. It got me thinking I should write another post about nightmares.
A lot of folks (including me 🙋🏻♀️) noticed nightmares and bizarre dreams at the beginning of the pandemic. Mine intensified during CHAZ and the BLM protests in Seattle. These have now abated and many of you will have had the same experience and would now say the nightmares and vivid dreams are resolved.
In cases like mine, I see nightmares and bizarre dreams as amazing because they are serving an important purpose. They are evidence that my brain took notice of my experiences and was rewiring to protect me against future threats that might be similar. For others who have a recurring nightmare or disturbing dream that doesn’t go away, additional treatment may be necessary.
There is a very simple but elegant treatment for recurring dreams and nightmares that is very effective. It’s called imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT). IRT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves rehearsing the dream with an alternate ending so that the repetition will change the dream.
One of the first cases I had as an attending physician was a patient who had a recurring dream that his house was burning down. He could never save his pets and loved ones. We worked together to come up with an alternate ending where he was able to save all of his loved ones and valuables. He journaled it and mentally rehearsed it several times per day. After a few months, his dream got better and went away.
For some people, especially those with PTSD or a history of trauma, a much more intensive therapy protocol is needed in conjunction with a mental health professional. There’s also a drug called prazosin that is incredibly effective for treating nightmares. It has done wonders for many veterans I’ve seen as patients.
Did you have #pandemicdreams? Have they gone away?