Friday, February 22, 2013

OCD and Bad Dreams

Last week I had one of those nights. I was drifting in and out  of a restless sleep and then had a nightmare. In case you want to know, I dreamed that I woke up in a bed in the middle the sidewalk in New York City with crowds of people watching me sleep. Startled, I jumped out of bed, and In my pajamas, I ran into a store. first thing I noticed was that there was something on the floor. I picked it up, and was horrified to see I was holding a dead bird. I felt bad for it and repulsed by it, and began running around with it, looking for a place to bury it. I woke up covered in sweat, heat pounding. Needless to say, I was not in the best of moods upon awakening. Do you blame me?
I immediately became obsessed about the meaning of my dream, and my initial anxiety quickly grew. I began frantically trying to find out why  I dreamed this, searching the Internet for dream meanings. Also, I wondered if this was a psychic dream, which also scared me. I once read that a psychic dream takes place in real time and in color, and a psychological dream jumps in time and is disjointed. I was wasting way too much time dissecting all of this and my day was not getting off to a good start, as I was running late.  I realized that left unchecked, this anxiety might even have cause me to ritualize, and reactivate my OCD, and I really did not want that to happen!

I began looking around the Internet for solutions, and came upon this article which made a lot of sense. My brain chemicals could have been be slightly off...

"Bad dreams plague everyone from time to time. To know how to treat them, it helps to know the physiological causes of your nightmares. There are prescription medicines to ease sleep but they often come with unwanted side effects and treat only the symptoms of sleep disturbance. If you treat the problem that causes the nightmares with herbs and vitamins, you treat the symptom, the bad dreams themselves.
Low dopamine levels could be the culprit. Dopamine provides pleasant feelings in order to entice people to perform the behaviors again which caused the rise in dopamine. It rewards activities such as eating and sex. Low dopamine levels in the brain cause people with a REM sleep behavior disorder, in which they act out their dreams, to have the most violent dreams. So it follows that if you're dreaming that someone is going to hurt you, or you are hurting someone else, it could be that your brain is producing too little dopamine.

If you are having violent types of bad dreams, dopamine levels can be increased by upping your intake of B vitamins. Common herb remedies such as drinking chamomile tea, putting lavender essential oils in the bath or drinking peppermint tea also may help. Powdered lavender can also be burned like incense. Peppermint is most often eaten in cookies or candy but can also be used in a crockpot roast. Chamomile can be put into a bath, infused into baby shampoo, used in water to rinse hair, or put into a foot soak. In extreme cases of nightmares try Kava Kava or Valerian root, both of which can be found online or at your health food store, but take them at bedtime because they can make you sleepy.

Medical studies also show that bad dreams involving pain, fear or anxiety can be caused by stomach problems. This may be why eating right before bed seems to cause bad dreams, because you experience poor digestion when you fall asleep on a full stomach. These stomach problems can be caused by fear in waking life and in your dreams, which creates a vicious cycle of gastric upset and bad dreams.

Increase the intake of both fiber and water when you are having fearful or painful nightmares. Decrease sugar intake. Other natural remedies include vitamin C, E and B supplements and taking herbs such a echinacea, anise and caraway seed. Echinacea is found in pill form at the drugstore or health food store. Anise can be found at the grocery store and is used in baked goods to produce a licorice flavor. You can also eat anise by using it in recipes for German foods, in Indian soups and stews, and in pepperoni or sausage. Caraway seed, also in the spice aisle, is found in rye breads and sauerkraut, can be put in turkey pot pie to complement the flavor of the turkey, goes great when cooked into a reuben sandwich, and is a savory herb to use as part of lentil soup.

Herbs, used for medicine since the beginning of recorded history, have only recently been eclipsed by modern artificial medicines. Don't let relatively new prejudices against natural healing keep you from trying these safe and inexpensive ways to calm your bad dreams."

This made sense to me, and I have been using several of these therapies, and so far, have slept much better since that restless night. I hope that people with OCD and related disorders realize that brain chemicals may have to be tweaked once in awhile, and that it can be done with natural remedies. I hope your sleep deep and peaceful, and all you dreams are happy ones!