Many recovering addicts struggle every night with bad dreams and nightmares. There are a number of reasons for this. Some of us are battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dream about the traumas we went through. For others, including me, bad dreams are a side effect of psychiatric medication.
The dreams that I have every single night can be more complex than any twisted TV show or movie I’ve ever seen. They are troubling in various ways, whether because they bring up childhood issues or because I’m being chased by a monster. They can really affect my day.
One of the biggest problems with dreams is that, because you are sleeping, you cannot implement the strategies you have learned for dealing with triggers. However, there are ways to soften or prevent bad dreams as a recovering addict.
1. Rewrite the narrative
If you have relatively straightforward dreams, you can use this strategy to dull their blow. Take the narrative of your dream and rewrite it. For example, maybe you dreamed about starting an important exam and realizing you knew none of the answers. Rewrite the dream with a positive ending and visualize it this way. This may help you leave the difficult emotions connected to the dream behind.
Of course, more complex dreams cannot be rewritten this easily. Try to prevent the dreams by doing the following.
2. Use herbal remedies
There are certain herbal remedies that help people sleep more peacefully and prevent bad dreams. Try the following:
- use a lavender-scented cream on your skin
- drink chamomile tea at night
- take valerian root supplements
3. Listen to sleep sounds
Apps like Headspace and Calm have sleep sounds or music that can play as you fall asleep or through the whole night. Anecdotal evidence indicates that these sounds can improve your sleep quality by preventing bad dreams.
4. Discuss it in therapy
Bad dreams don’t come from nowhere. Although you may feel calm during the day, bad dreams are often triggered by stress and anxiety that you avoid consciously thinking about. For this reason, discussing your bad dreams in therapy can help in more ways than one. Externalizing your dreams this way can help you disconnect from them. It can also help you figure out what is really causing you stress and anxiety, adding to the therapeutic process and giving you the chance to work on it during your waking hours.
5. Take a break
If you wake up in the middle of the night, disturbed by a dream or series of dreams, take a short “break” from sleep. Move from your bed to the couch for a few minutes or listen to soothing sounds. This can help you disconnect from your bad dreams and go back to sleep with a clear head.