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Bipolar Disorder and Dreaming

By: Vicki M. Taylor

Everyone dreams right? We all have wishes of what could be or what we’d like or even whom. However, dreaming when we should be sleeping is something different. And for those of us with Bipolar Disorder, dreaming can become a minefield we maneuver in our sleeping hours.

Personally, as someone with Bipolar Disorder, I can remember most of my dreams. I’ve written them down in my journals and have even used them in plots for my fiction books. I have written pages and pages of detail about my past dreams, and can even recall them days, months, or even years later. 

One dream was so vivid and my recall was so detailed that I used it for a book that later became published as Trust in the Wind. It’s a Romantic Suspense with some Women’s Fiction elements. 

At first, I always thought my dreams and nightmares were related to the medication I took. Sometimes I dreamed more, other times, I couldn’t remember dreaming at all. With further research I found out differently.

Did you know that people with Bipolar Disorder tend to have more nightmares?

It’s true. Nightmares occur frequently in people with Bipolar Disorder. In The Reinterpretation of Dreams, the authors write:

Bipolar patients report bizarre dreams with death and injury themes before their shift to mania (Beauchemin and Hays, 1995). Beauchemin and Hays (1996) found that dreams of bipolar depressed patients have more anxiety than those of unipolar patients. Dreams of bipolar patients, particularly those with rapid cycling, may show evidence of the subsequent shift prior to noticeable affective and behavioral changes (Frayn, 1991).

Having Nightmares is one thing, but that’s not the end of it. Those of us with Bipolar Disorder also tend to have more Night Terrors. I can attest to this as I have them on a semi-regular basis. Mine are mostly silent and I don’t usually remember them once I wake up. I only know I’ve had them if they awaken my husband during the night and he tells me about the episode the next day.

According to some studies, Night Terrors are rare in adults, yet Papolos and Papolos cited a 1999 study by Dr. Maurice Ohayon (1) that found that bipolar disorders and depression with anxiety were the most common factors associated with adults who reported night terrors.

In these episodes, people are known to appear to awaken, recognize no one, and exhibit symptoms of extreme fear, even screaming, thrashing around or running from the bedroom.

Ohayon went on to say that “Arousal parasomnias (night terrors, sleepwalking, and confusional arousals) have seldom been investigated in the adult general population. Clinical studies of Parasomnias, however, show that these disorders may be indicators of underlying mental disorders and may have serious consequences.”

Like I said earlier, my Night Terrors are nothing like that. I have repetitive motions, crying, and some thrashing on a more moderate level. That is what usually awakened my husband. At first, he was very alarmed by them, but as we investigated and became more informed, we take them as normal routine now, and he doesn’t stay up all night watching me to see if I’m going to hurt myself.

“Night Terrors and such conditions as sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome, bruxism (teeth grinding) make up a group of arousal disorders called parasomnias. Night Terrors do not occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and are not dreams, although they have nightmarish elements. They occur instead either during deep sleep or in a transitional state between deep and dreaming sleep and are a form of Confusional Arousal Disorder.” – About.com (2) http://bipolar.about.com/od/sleepissues/a/040729_dreams_2.htm

The Southern States Paranormal Research Society has more to say regarding Paranormal Parasomnia, and you can read about it here:
http://www.ssprstn.com/id102.html

If anyone has personal experience with Nightmares and/or Night Terrors, I’d love to hear back from you and read your story.

RESOURCES
(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10221293?dopt=Abstract
J Clin Psychiatry. 1999 Apr;60(4):268-76; quiz 277.
Night terrors, sleepwalking, and confusional arousals in the general population: their frequency and relationship to other sleep and mental disorders.
Ohayon MM, Guilleminault C, Priest RG.
Source

(2) About.com – Bipolar
http://bipolar.about.com/b/2012/04/23/nightmares-and-night-terrors-in-bi...

Part Two
http://bipolar.about.com/od/sleepissues/a/040729_dreams_2.htm

Additional Resources:
Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Dreams?

Nightmares and Night Terrors in Bipolar Disorder
Vivid Dreams, Nightmares, Night Terrors and Bipolar
Bipolar Dreams
Mood Disorders and Sleep

Important Side Note: I felt that I would be remiss in my imparting of information about Bipolar Disorder and Sleep Disorders, if I didn’t include the following text. I’ve cited the title, author, link, and complete article. I hope that it can save at least one life.

Preventing Suicide Among Those with Sleep Disorders

By Brandon Peters, M.D. http://sleepdisorders.about.com/cs/dreaming/a/terrorbasics.htm

Research has shown that people with sleep disorders, especially insomnia, are at higher risk of dying from suicide. Moreover, symptoms of sleep disorders often overlap those of depression. In order to save lives, it is important to recognize the warning signs of suicide and what to do.

Consider these warning signs of suicide:

• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk of suicide. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

If you recognize these warning signs in someone you know, you must act to save their life. Start by immediately taking these steps:

• Do not leave the person alone
• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
• Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

By knowing the warning signs of suicide and acting on your concerns, you may save the life of someone who needs your help. If needed, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources.

Comments

This is a fascinating article:) I've had terrible night terrors all of my life (I'm 34 now). Most of them I remember very clearly and they often have strange or gruesome details. I've seen a headless woman, a possessed seeming little boy... anything you would see in a scary movie I've seen in my room. I've also had many sleep walking episodes and have a reoccurring waking night terror where I'm convinced that I'm dead. It is not pleasant. Recently I've become better able to face them and have even been heard by my fiance cursing at them;) I've never been diagnosed with bipolar but I've wondered about it. My grandfather almost certainly had it and my mother suffers from severe depression. I've never had real depression but I do seem to have manic episodes and what I would call very sleepy episodes where I just have no energy and really want to quit my job. I do have severe anxiety and panic attacks. It's a giant ball of weird that's for sure! My dad has also had many night terrors and the mental health on his side is good aside from anxiety. Who knows what causes this but I wish it would go away.

Bipolar and mental health runs in my family. I also have had dream were I was dead. An a lot of dreams of an old Indian watching over me. Falling dreams, terror dreams were I try to scream out but I can't, my legs will jerk some nights while I am sleeping. Cold sweats sometimes.

I used to watch an old show called R.L Stines 'The Haunting Hour', and when i found it again years later in my teen years i rewatched it and now i cant stop dreaming of it. Constantly i advoid sleep so i dont dream of such terrible things. Last night specifically i had a dream where i knew my ultimate death. I was a new student in class. I also did something underground. Like being part of the cooks, or something mechanical. I knew soon the high school would go up in flames, and i would be with it. but i had to stop it.But in the end i just watched all my fellow students die. It was awful. I road away in a car with the teacher i was the night before instead of the student. We watch behind us as the students ran out of the school screaming, the building in the flames. This is normal with those with Bipolar disorder right? or am i just crazy. For any of those who has seen this show, this is mostly how the show ends. You think you ended the horror, that everything was going to be fine, then a twist ending ensues and you end up in flames... I gotta be crazy

I have not seen this show, but from the dream I can get an understanding. Did something happen that you couldn't stop and the show reminds you of it? It sounds to me that you tried to stop something as a child and then rematch ing that show as an older person you dream of trying to stop it now. That's why you are both the teacher and the student. Trying to solve it as a child and an adult. That's just my opinion. The dream may be crazy, but the reason for it is not.
I hope that helps.

I deal with bipolar and major depression. I had a brain injury when I was 3 months old. I was being babysitted while my parents worked. Long story short I was a used and was put into a controlled coma as a child to heal my body. I died and came back. I ended up with brain scar tissue on one sided my brain.

Over the years growing up I had a couple drama that had happen often. A older indian would sit in a old rocking chair and would watch over me. I also would have another one where it's like I would wake up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I could sense someone was behind the door but I couldn't make them out what they looked liked. I would wake up shaking and feel like I want to scream of but I could not talk to loud. I have had drams we're am falling, an vivid dreams of walking through a very dark hallway. Some dreams I can recall when I very young and with details. An some I couldn't see any faces or recall what happen.

I am 39 years old and I still have terror dreams off and on, where I would try to scream out for help but I couldn't talk loud. I would feel overwhelmed when I would make up shaking and scared to death. I couldn't move in bed my body tenses up.

I have been on lamictal for bipolar II for over three years now. I have had very vivid dreams my whole life. I still remember a nightmare I had frequently as a child, and it was the same every time. I would sometimes have screaming episodes in the middle of the night, but I wouldn't remember much about that in the morning. Recently though, I've experienced extreme panic in the middle of the night and a feeling of immense fear. I woke up screaming and trying to find the bedroom door, but when all I could feel was the wall I began screaming even more and eventually was able to find the light switch and get out of the room. I wasn't brave enough to try to go back to the bedroom to sleep again that night because the experience was so terrifying for me. My husband tells me when I have scream-sleeping/thrashing episodes, because most of them I don't remember. But recently they have become so intense that I remember enough to know that I don't want the same thing to happen again. I can't find any connection or theme in my life as to when they occur. Mood wise I am pretty stable - my medication helps keep things under control - but I know I still have cycles of ups and downs. They are very little ups and downs though, compared to my life before medication.

Does anyone have any thoughts on these night terrors? (or are they waking panic attacks?) Would it be worth considering some form of sleep med? I don't really want to have to be on more than one medication. Any advice about what may be causing the night terrors to get worse to the point where I become fully awake?

Thank you for your thoughts.

My dreams are about me saving others or myself. I know it means I can't or I try to in an impossible degree.
My dreams usually involve my limbs being cut off or getting shot in the head and having a hole there that I can clearly feel. My eye popping out and I have to hold it up in my hand so I can see around or me being chased and I can't escape, and being swallowed by something with intense bloodlust for me.
To me this means I cannot escape the fact that I can't save everyone from everything. Makes sense. I always do more for others than myself and I cry inside when I can't help them.

What happens to you in your dreams?
What are the themes and scenarios that occur over and over, but have different details?

Those questions could help you
figure out what is bothering you. Like if you feel trapped, feel you can't help others, feel you aren't good enough for something/someone, or even maybe a loved one passed or left you at a young age and you thought if you were or did something different you could have saved them or made them stay. I speak from experience with that one, and that's why I try and save everyone. I hope this helps, and I apologize for some of the graphic detail.

Christine, I'd like to comment on your night terrors. My husband was extremely upset the first time he saw one of my more violent Night Terrors. So much so, he stayed awake the entire night watching my, fearful I'd hurt myself. He also videoed the events so we could show my sleep specialist. I couldn't watch all the videos, only one. The others were too emotional and upsetting for me. The only one I watched showed me crying, wiping away tears, using hands, feet and legs to fend off an attacker. The others were even more explicit about being attacked. There is a medication that my p-doc gives me for PTSD Night Terrors it's in capsule form. I take it every night at bedtime for PTSD Night Terrors. You may want to discuss this with your psychiatrist.

My boyfriend has terrible nightmares and feels drained the next morning. I don't sleep much myself and am thus awake most of the night. I see and feel his rapid movements, hear him talk clearly in his sleep, and have experienced him lashing out like his hitting someone. One night he spoke in an angry voice and was hitting the wall with his fist. Mostly when he has had a very busy day at work his sleep is extremely disturbed. Even after watching an action movie before bed, his sleep is as disturbed too. I wonder sometimes too if the medication may have such a side effect!

i have bipolar mania. my dreams are more like an adventure movie w action and excitement. i am not scared but exhilarated. i often awake exhausted due to all the action during my dreams. i wonder if anyone else experiences these types of dreams. i have them nightly and have had the since i can remember. i am 56.i do recall most of them and sometimes write them down. i guess they would make a good book if i could focus long enough to write one lol. thx

When I dream it's mostly my against the world or a specific foe. I must either escape or save someone's life/lives. I wake up feeling like I just rivaled Bruce Willis or Bruce Lee. It makes me feel strong and powerful, but as the day goes on I feel more sad and weak, because I realize I cannot actually perform those fantastic feats.

Then there are the night "terrors". In those I am stuck in a situation where I must die or kill to survive. Those are the flip side to my action dreams. Those are the dreams I fear. I just woke from one right now and am trying to vent. In these dreams I can taste, feel, smell, and even control my basic body functions. Though the ending I can never change. I get so frustrated that I can't "fix" the problem in my dream, that I make it loop over and over 10-50 times (that I can remember) to try and make it have a happy ending. Then eventually make myself wake up because I'm to sick of trying to save everyone. It makes me depressed and unable to leave my bed or unable to go back into my room. Depending on the detail I can remember.

Can you feel, smell, and taste in your dreams? And remember those distinctly when you awaken?

Hi Crystal, what you wrote about sounds like lucid dreaming. I have been reading stuff at world of lucid dreaming, a website that teaches you how to control your dreams. You should check it out, you might be able to learn how to "fix" the problem in your dream and enjoy controlling your dreams rather than getting frustrated. A lucid dream is a dream where you realize that you are dreaming btw. I found the website fascinating and hope that it can serve as therapy for my bipolar 1.

Manic depression/bi-polar runs in our family. I wasn't medicated until I was almost 20, but up til that point I often had terrible dreams and exhausting dreams. Many nights when i was young my mother would find me hiding in the bathroom with the light on just shaking. I had no idea how or when i got there only that i was terrified. As I got older i would have more gruesome dreams involving death and dismemberment and wake up so scared that i couldn't move or repeating to myself that i don't know where i am. I can still remember those dreams in vivid detail. Other times i had dreams that had me as a kind of daredevil and i would wake up exhausted and bruised from all the tossing and turning i had done in my sleep. Since i got medicated though i rarely dream anymore. When i do they are usually vivid and extreme and easily recognized as an extreme sign of stress. If they are around for a prolonged period of time i know i need a med change. It's nice to know there are others out there with the same experiences. The Dr. may tell you it's a symptom but until you see that it's not just you, you always wonder...

I've wondered if I have some sort of bipolar disorder. My family and boyfriend suspect it, but no one else does. I've always had very vivid dreams and many of them could be incredible plots for highly spiritual, interdimensional and futuristic scifi novels and films. I also have parasomnia including sleep talking, night terrors, crying a lot and screaming, moving around a lot, grinding my teeth, and falling into a state where I'm half awake and half asleep but can't go back to sleep or wake up fully for awhile so I lose sleep. I've also had a history of depression and constant suicidal thoughts. But many of my dreams are also very beautiful, and have brought me to strange states of euphoria. I often awake a very different person then the one I was before I went to sleep. It feels like years of learning and growing in one night. The visions, and feelings are uncannily similar to how others describe their hallucinogenic experiences. I tried getting help a couple years ago and wanted to get a sleep study done when I was a teenager, back when my sleep talking/screaming would wake my family up every night. Do you have any recommendations?

I think I am bipolar. But I have bad dreams of something that happened to me when I was young boy. The dreams are sometimes similar but some with different outcomes. Once I am woken I cannot get back to sleep. I wish I could go back in time to stop what happened and then I would never have had these dreams. I think its also because I had to keep quiet for so many years because I lived in fear for almost 35 years. I am not scared anymore of the kid that did this to me as I found out he has passed away. I just needed to get this out because I don't know who else to tell. I hope this makes me feel better. I know I should talk to someone about it but I just need time because its not easy. I get emotional and it stops me from taking the next step. I hope this is the start helping

I don't know what to think about my night terrors, it's like I'm sleeping, but awake at the same time. They seem to be nightmares that at least wake me up partially and then become hallucinations. I have nearly fallen out of a second story window because when I woke up from the dream, I believed I was somewhere else and was trying to run away. I have seen giant spiders on my wall when I'm in the partial dream/awake state. I have put duct tape on my wall during an episode because a funky big Bird was coming out of the wall. I just want to be normal, whatever that is. I cycle to quickly to be normal for any length of quality time.

Lisa, "normal" is only a word.. You are what and who you are. I too have had similar Night Terrors... but mostly my Night Terrors are recurrences of my PTSD events. Those are the hardest for me. Once they return and interrupt my sleep, it's hard to get back to sleep.

Hello there,
I'm diagnosed as bipolar type one. I've always suffered from sleep issues long before my diagnosis . Since around 6 years old I've had recurring zombie apocalypse nightmares and other varied extremely vivid realistic dreams. My partner says I grind my teeth and I shout out too, talk, moan and thrash out. i often wake up more than once during the night, and it's exhausting. Not to mention the dreams are often extremely disturbing.. Graphically as well as the nature of the dream. I also remember so many of my dreams and have many written down. I'll be talking to my specialist tomorrow about it as I've had 4 zombie nights in a row now and am reaching my wits end!!

Kinda depends on my cycle... i think. Sometimes it's gruesome but honestly I can deal with that. Grew up in poverty with alot of abuse.
Watching others suffer, being unable to move or help really gets me. I wake up wanting to or actually quietly screaming, every muscle in my body tense and ready to punch something... triggers my ptsd.

Other times its like any ordinary day at first. So true to reality that I cannot tell what has really happened or not in real life, often have to ask my bf if ive had certain conversations with him or if certain things have actually happened/exist. It's uncanny.
Often I see things first in a dream, like a location or room ive never been, and then see them almost exactly the same in real life. Deja vu for sure. Probably my brain finding patterns where none actually exist.

I'm a 50 yr old man with bipolar. Reading about all you guys dreams is strange to me because I almost never dream. I mean maybe 1-2 times a year. People always tell me I just don't remember, but I don't think that's true. On rare occasions when I have dreams I remember them quite vividly. I also tried the whole thing where I wake up and immediately write down what I remember and got nothing. Strange

I have had unusual sleep patterns since I was quite small. I was afraid to fall asleep, deathly afraid of the dark have both terrible and fantastic dreams so vivid and unusual. I have been having night terrors Well I'm not sure if that's what they are. I wake wake up thinking people are in my room or hovering above me. I scream and sit up and often don't know where I am.I was diagnosed with bi polar 2 recently

I am BP1. Now I have stopped marijauna, I can use my dreams to predict mood changes before they occur and how I could best approach my day ahead. I record and analyse almost daily.

Hello I have a question I have recently been diagnosed as bipolar and after ready this article I realize I have many of these types of dreams by I never thought anything of them till now. Since being diagnosed I have been research to try to understand it more. One of the questions I have is this, do people with bipolar disorder dream in black and white or in color?

Hi, Brandon. I wanted to answer this for you, but I haven't taken any specific poll. I know only for myself... I dream in color.. VIVID COLOR!

At least two times a week, I have awful nightmares. I dream that I've died and I'm watching all the people I care about forget me, not a tear shed, not a care given. I dream my boyfriend, who loves me so dearly, has cheated on me, is abusive, is everything horrible that he's so far from being in real life. I dream about watching all the people I love die right in front of me, I dream of having no control, like my life is spiraling out and I can't do anything to stop it. I dream of failure and loss and I dream of being at fault for everything that goes wrong. When my mania is about to start, I sleepwalk. I talk to people and act as if I'm awake but I remember nothing. I've written term papers while asleep and taken a bath and sometimes I do math and sing and while this is creepy, it's also dangerous and I never understood why all this happened to me. Even when my doctors diagnosed me bipolar, they didn't explain my nightmares and sleepwalking, so this helps a lot. Thank you so much for sharing.

In my opinion, Bipolar is usually caused from a trauma. The left side of the brain separates from the right side of the brain when trauma is induced. I believe that "Bi Polar" is a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms, not on the "root cause". And it appears to me that those Who deal with Bi Polar, manifest more noticeable symptoms the older they get. I feel that medication can help the symptoms, but I don't believe that medication fixes the "root cause." How does this relate to dreams? If bipolar is caused by trauma, which I believe that it mostly is, then I believe that the symptoms will always remain until the person deals with the trauma. So when somebody has nightmares, I believe that it can be the trauma making it's presence known. I also believe that when people dealing with Bipolar experience what they call " euphoric" symptoms, The pleasure senses have been so suppressed, that when they are experienced, they are experienced at an intense level. I'm not sure that memory can be erased. But I am learning that it CAN be rewired. I do realize that there are other factors that could play into somebody having nightmares. But ultimately, when it comes to someone dealing with Bipolar, I believe that nightmares can be a sign of their past trauma making its presence known. And especially if somekone has never dealt with the root cause. This is my humble opinion. I am survivor of abuse and trauma. I deal with bipolar and PTSD symptoms. I consider myself first and foremost a Child of God. I have been in about 20 different mental hospitals. I have Tried just about every medication that is out there. I do take medication now. But I have and continue to work on the trauma that caused the right side of my brain to separate from the left side of my brain. For me that created bipolar symptoms. It may be a little different with myself because I struggle with bipolar and PTSD. But I believe that it's connected. For me, medication has given me a foundation to work from. But dealing with the root cause, the trauma, is what is bringing me through healing and freedom. And God has had a lot to do with this. I am even able to experience dreams about heaven. It's pretty rad! But I was so supressed because of the trauma, that rarely was I able to experience pleasure on a normal level. Hey, thank you for letting me share. May God bless you ❤️

I (Bipolar I, PTSD, Panic Disorder) have pretty consistently (2x a year) had auditory night terrors with auditory hallucinations- usually I am paralyzed and "awake" and hear small children doing some kind of "horror movie" type giggling outside of my window. I usually "come to" with a pounding heart, but I'm used to them. A few weeks ago I had one that I feel threw me into a slight psychotic break. I could see my body as if I was standing behind it. I was trying to "will" it to wake up, and at one point my "fake" body started furiously punching my "real" body in the face to wake it. The punches were blocked by my "real" hand. When I finally woke up, my hand was still tucked behind me, as it was when I went to sleep. I wandered around the house, 90% believing I was dead and had become a ghost. I kept lifting heavy things and moving furniture to make sure I wasn't dead. Even when my dogs interacted with me, my brain was telling me it didn't matter, because animals could see ghosts. I went on Facebook (who ever heard of a ghost using Facebook) and then called a few people. It took me about an hour of being awake to convince myself I wasn't dead. Definitely a new experience, and completely terrifying. I couldn't get to sleep for days without anxiety that it would happen again.

For the longest time I have tried to figure out why I have such crazy vivid dreams almost majority of the week. Most nights I wake up with cold sweats and memories that are clear as day of what I have dreamt and a feeling of being disturbed like I truly lived through it in my dream. I was diagnosed as being bipolar but never connected the two.

I am 33 and have bipolar disorder 2. I have always had vivid and violent dreams. I remember dreams almost every night and have been writing them down since middle school. I have begun recording my sleep talking for the last six months. I get at least three good bits most nights. Sometimes I remember the dream they came from. But yes - like many with bipolar, many of my dreams are more scary than the scariest horror movie. It almost feels normal after all these years, but if I tell people they are shocked.

One thing I have never been able to explain is a kind of walking dream I call Geometric Horrors. I wake up from a dead, black sleep and am completely overcome by crippling, eternal, desperate terror usually in the form of some kind of geometric elements: intersecting lines, a sea of holes, a complex scaffolding. It feels different from a dream in that I am totally awake and remember every moment. I have searched the internet for many years for some clue. My psychologist and therapist have never heard of it.

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