Same dream every night

The Science of Recurring Dreams Is More Fascinating Than We Ever Imagined : ScienceAlert

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Having the same dream again and again is a well-known phenomenon — nearly two-thirds of the population report having recurring dreams. Being chased, finding yourself naked in a public place or in the middle of a natural disaster, losing your teeth or forgetting to go to class for an entire semester are typical recurring scenarios in these dreams.

But where does the phenomenon come from? The science of dreams shows that recurring dreams may reflect unresolved conflicts in the dreamer's life.

Recurring dreams often occur during times of stress, or over long periods of time, sometimes several years or even a lifetime. Not only do these dreams have the same themes, they can also repeat the same narrative night after night.

Although the exact content of recurring dreams is unique to every individual, there are common themes among individuals and even among cultures and in different periods. For example, being chased, falling, being unprepared for an exam, arriving late or trying to do something repeatedly are among the most prevalent scenarios.

The majority of recurring dreams have negative content involving emotions such as fear, sadness, anger and guilt. More than half of recurring dreams involve a situation where the dreamer is in danger. But some recurring themes can also be positive, even euphoric, such as dreams where we discover new rooms in our house, erotic dreams or where we fly.

In some cases, recurring dreams that begin in childhood can persist into adulthood. These dreams may disappear for a few years, reappear in the presence of a new source of stress and then disappear again when the situation is over.

Unresolved conflicts

Why does our brain play the same dreams over and over again? Studies suggest that dreams, in general, help us regulate our emotions and adapt to stressful events. Incorporating emotional material into dreams may allow the dreamer to process a painful or difficult event.

In the case of recurrent dreams, repetitive content could represent an unsuccessful attempt to integrate these difficult experiences. Many theories agree that recurring dreams are related to unresolved difficulties or conflicts in the dreamer's life.

The presence of recurrent dreams has also been associated with lower levels of psychological wellbeing and the presence of symptoms of anxiety and depression. These dreams tend to recur during stressful situations and cease when the person has resolved their personal conflict, which indicates improved wellbeing.

Recurrent dreams often metaphorically reflect the emotional concerns of the dreamers. For example, dreaming about a tsunami is common following trauma or abuse. This is a typical example of a metaphor that can represent emotions of helplessness, panic or fear experienced in waking life.

Similarly, being inappropriately dressed in one's dream, being naked or not being able to find a toilet can all represent scenarios of embarrassment or modesty.

These themes can be thought of as scripts or ready-to-dream scenarios that provide us with a space where we can digest our conflicting emotions. The same script can be reused in different situations where we experience similar emotions.

This is why some people, when faced with a stressful situation or a new challenge, may dream they're showing up unprepared for a math exam, even years after they have set foot in a school. Although the circumstances are different, a similar feeling of stress or desire to excel can trigger the same dream scenario again.

A continuum of repetition

William Domhoff, an American researcher and psychologist, proposes the concept of a continuum of repetition in dreams. At the extreme end, traumatic nightmares directly reproduce a lived trauma — one of the main symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Then there are recurring dreams where the same dream content is replayed in part or in its entirety. Unlike traumatic dreams, recurring dreams rarely replay an event or conflict directly but reflect it metaphorically through a central emotion.

Further along the continuum are the recurring themes in dreams. These dreams tend to replay a similar situation, such as being late, being chased or being lost, but the exact content of the dream differs from one time to the next, such as being late for a train rather than for an exam.

Finally, at the other end of the continuum, we find certain dream elements recurring in the dreams of one individual, such as characters, actions or objects. All these dreams would reflect, at different levels, an attempt to resolve certain emotional concerns.

Moving from an intense level to a lower level on the continuum of repetition is often a sign that a person's psychological state is improving. For example, in the content of traumatic nightmares progressive and positive changes are often observed in people who have experienced trauma as they gradually overcome their difficulties.

Physiological phenomena

Why do the themes tend to be the same from person to person? One possible explanation is that some of these scripts have been preserved in humans due to the evolutionary advantage they bring. By simulating a threatening situation, the dream of being chased, for example, provides a space for a person to practise perceiving and escaping predators in their sleep.

Some common themes may also be explained, in part, by physiological phenomena that take place during sleep. A 2018 study by a research team in Israel found that dreaming of losing one's teeth was not particularly linked to symptoms of anxiety but rather associated to teeth clenching during sleep or dental discomfort upon waking.

When we sleep, our brain is not completely cut off from the outside world. It continues to perceive external stimuli, such as sounds or smells, or internal body sensations. That means that other themes, such as not being able to find a toilet or being naked in a public space, could actually be spurred by the need to urinate during the night or by wearing loose pyjamas in bed.

Some physical phenomena specific to REM sleep, the stage of sleep when we dream the most, could also be at play. In REM sleep, our muscles are paralyzed, which could provoke dreams of having heavy legs or being paralyzed in bed.

Similarly, some authors have proposed that dreams of falling or flying are caused by our vestibular system, which contributes to balance and can reactivate spontaneously during REM sleep. Of course, these sensations are not sufficient to explain the recurrence of these dreams in some people and their sudden occurrence in times of stress, but they probably play a significant role in the construction of our most typical dreams.

Breaking the cycle

People who experience a recurring nightmare have in some ways become stuck in a particular way of responding to the dream scenario and anticipating it. Therapies have been developed to try to resolve this recurrence and break the vicious cycle of nightmares.

One technique is to visualize the nightmare while awake and then rewrite it, that is, to modify the narrative by changing one aspect, for example, the end of the dream to something more positive. Lucid dreaming may also be a solution.

In lucid dreams we become aware that we are dreaming and can sometimes influence the content of the dream. Becoming lucid in a recurring dream might allow us to think or react differently to the dream and thereby alter the repetitive nature of it.

However, not all recurring dreams are bad in themselves. They can even be helpful insofar as they are informing us about our personal conflicts. Paying attention to the repetitive elements of dreams could be a way to better understand and resolve our greatest desires and torments.

Claudia Picard-Deland, Candidate au doctorat en neurosciences, Université de Montréal and Tore Nielsen, Professor of Psychiatry, Université de Montréal.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Recurring Dreams Really Mean

Of all the dreams humans may experience in deep sleep, a recurring dream may feel the most mysterious — and in some cases, the most terrifying. Dreams can vary greatly from person to person; the American Sleep Association notes that people, on average, experience three to five dreams every night, usually lasting between 20 and 30 minutes in length. Because dreams tend to form when humans are in their deepest sleep (a.k.a REM sleep, when your brain recharges overnight!), it is not uncommon to have sweet, pleasant dreams right before confusing ones or even scary nightmares. But if you're one of the many people who dream about the same scenes on a monthly, weekly or even a nightly basis, you're not alone — in fact, psychologists and sleep specialists troubleshoot these chronic dreams quite frequently.

Recurring dreams may be pleasant in nature, particularly as the percentage of both men and women reporting frequent dreams involving romantic and sexual overtones has increased in recent history, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. More often than not, though, those who experience recurring dreams are left bewildered or entirely terrified by the sequence of events, wondering why exactly they are left experiencing the same dream on loop. As much as 75% of recurring dreams may be negative in nature, per a teen survey published in a 2015 study, and often revolve around painful sensations like tooth loss or traumatic events like car crashes.

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"Recurrent nightmares are most often due to unresolved anxiety or trauma that has not been fully processed by our brain," says Annie Miller, LCSW-C, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in sleep treatments at her Washington, D.C.-based practice. "There are indeed typical themes that show up in these recurrent dreams, especially recurrent nightmares. For instance, feelings of powerlessness, lack of safety, trust and shame are common themes in recurrent nightmares."

These loopy dejá vu dreams can be spurned as side effects of general anxiety for sure, and could be fleeting; or, they may be long-carried remnants of trauma experienced early in your life. If you're one of the many people who are hunting for some meaning to your own recurring dream, we've assembled a panel of sleep experts to answer top questions about cyclical dreams and nightmares below.

What does a recurring dream symbolize?

Sadly, science hasn't allowed sleep specialists to nail down just one cause of a recurring dream or nightmare — as no two frequent dreams feel the same. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., psychiatrist, sleep medicine specialist and founder of California-based Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, explains that the root cause of a recurrent dream hinges on the dream's content entirely. "There's some chance the unconscious mind may be surfacing content in recurrent dreams, so it helps to try to analyze," explains Dr. Dimitriu, adding that sleep medicine specialists often work with patients on demystifying and (hopefully) ceasing troublesome recurrent dreams.

If a recurrent dream is negative enough that you are dwelling on it while you are awake, sleep specialists have a better idea of what's commonly causing you to experience these night terrors. Julia Kogan, PsyD, a psychologist providing sleep and cognitive behavioral therapy and an insomnia specialist within the Department of Veterans Affairs, says these three mental health conditions often drive recurrent dreams:

  • Chronic stress, which may cause periodic bouts of recurrent dreams
  • Clinical anxiety, which often contributes to recurrent dreams over a lifetime
  • Depression, which may lead to both factors
  • Unresolved issues or conflict

These persistent dreams often occur during our REM sleep cycle, which has long been linked to our body and brain's emotional processing and memory production — unresolved issues and emotional distress are thus usually processed during this time in the form of a recurrent dream.

"If we do not well with emotional distress or problems in our lives, we are likely to process these things while sleeping, which can result in various types of recurrent dreams," says Kogan, explaining that previous research indicates that up to 65% of dreams may be associated with things that happen when people are awake. "A majority of recurring dreams tend to have themes related to fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, and other difficult emotions."

What are the most common recurring dreams?

As you'd expect, most recurrent dreams are emotional. "The belief is that the brain is simulating these experiences at night to both rehearse and be better prepared for these events," Dr. Dimitriu tells Good Housekeeping. "Embarrassing dreams are common as well, the classic being naked or otherwise exposed in front of a room of strangers."

Most often, Miller says people replay their trauma or fears in these replaying dreams over and over again. "Often, clients discuss feelings of helplessness, and that shows up as being unable to be heard, communicate, or fight back." And because so many people have these emotions, experts have been able to identify these exceedingly common recurring dreams:

  1. Falling endlessly
  2. Being chased or attacked and being unable to defend yourself
  3. Reverting back to school, often decades after graduation
  4. Being unprepared for an important event, or not having studied for a test
  5. Flying uncontrollably
  6. Arriving late for a crucial life event or appointment
  7. Being stuck in an inescapable location
  8. Losing control of a car
  9. Losing teeth

There is a slew of surveys and studies linking these recurring nightmares to frequent case reports and treatment plans across the country, but Kogan adds that new and recent research is still needed to gain a better picture of what haunts Americans' dreams most frequently (especially since some data comes from children's stress-related observation).

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Regardless of which recurring dream you're experiencing, Dr. Dimitriu advises not to entirely ignore or dismiss them if they've been plaguing you for years. "Some recurring dreams are worthy of more attention [and therapy]," he says. "People with unresolved trauma that should be treated will experience an event in their nightmares, and people with sleep apnea may commonly dream of suffocating or drowning, when in reality, they cannot breathe."

We're not shocked to hear that recurrent dreams are more common in women than in men, according to Miller's testimony and a 2016 survey conducted by Amerisleep. But an underreported amount of individuals living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often endure recurrent dreams without realizing the two issues are linked.

What does a loop dream mean?

A special subset of recurrent dreams, a dream loop may literally feel like you are repeating the same actions or sequence of events over and over again — which can be made more complicated by what's known as sleep paralysis for some. Experts at the Cleveland Clinic indicate that sleep paralysis occurs when your brain relaxes muscles in legs and arms during REM sleep, but you've simultaneously regained awareness, meaning you can't move or speak. This often can be a post-cursor to dream loops where you've consciously become aware that you are dreaming and try to wake up.

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Looping dreams can be quite indicative of PTSD, according to Kogan. "This often involves replaying the trauma in various ways, or different situations in which the person is distressed with similar emotions they experienced during the trauma, but in a different storyline," she explains.

How do I stop recurring dreams?

Since it's quite possible to spend years in therapy working out how to quit unwanted dreams, try ruling out any medical conditions first — issues like untreated sleep apnea and narcolepsy, which can be addressed with antidepressants or hypertensive medications, Kogan explains.

On your own, you can work to stop recurring dreams by focusing on your sleep hygiene; practicing best habits and trying to step away from any upsetting content prior to bed. "Using substances can negatively impact sleep and increase dream activity," she adds.

If you already know you're being impacted by temporary stress, it's important to work on relieving symptoms before addressing a dream itself. "Since dream content is often related to unresolved issues, anxiety, stress, and grief, it is important to manage stress and mood on a regular basis," Kogan explains. "This can include doing active things for stress relief such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, journaling, exercise, and processing difficult situations."

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Lifestyle changes aside, working with a sleep medicine specialist or a related healthcare provider to address harmful recurrent dreams often includes one of the following:

  • Dream Rehearsal Therapy (DRT): "This approach involves replaying and then re-writing the end of the unwanted dream," Dr. Dimitriu says. "People are asked to replay the unwanted dream, write it, and imagine it. Then, they change the ending, and write or imagine the new ending repeatedly in session, and ideally again before bedtime."
  • Exposure, Relaxation, and Rescripting Therapy (EERT): "This option involves rewriting the nightmare as well but adds elements of relaxation in the process," Miller says. "Both of these therapies [EERT and DRT] are clinically proven to be effective."
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Often used for those suffering from insomnia and nightmares, Kogan says CBT is "an evidence-based approach shown to improve sleep and decrease nightmares."
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: "Those with PTSD can benefit from seeking evidence-based treatment such as cognitive processing therapy or prolonged exposure therapy," Kogan says, which involves individuals working to gradually approach trauma-related memories or situations.
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Zee Krstic

Health Editor

Zee Krstic is a health editor for Good Housekeeping, where he covers health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle. Prior to joining GH in 2019, Zee fostered a nutrition background as an editor at Cooking Light and is continually developing his grasp of holistic health through collaboration with leading academic experts and clinical care providers. He has written about food and dining for Time, among other publications.

Somnologist Poluektov: what does the subconscious mind tell you if you have the same dream



Who are oneironauts and what is the “continuum hypothesis”, can a person interfere with what dream? A neurologist-somnologist explained in detail about dreams and the possibility of programming dreams.

neurologist, somnologist, associate professor of Sechenov University, Candidate of Medical Sciences

Continuum hypothesis

- Dreams are a mysterious section of somnology, but if you briefly answer the question "is it possible to influence dreams", then yes - very easily, - Mikhail Poluektov said in an interview. - Because our dreams in their absolute majority reflect the events of the previous day and evening. So, if we want to see some kind of adventure dream, we watch an adventure movie in the evening - and then we will see something similar in a dream.

The main scientific hypothesis that explains the occurrence of dreams is a continuum, clarifies the somnologist. nine0003

- The brain in a dream continues to process the same information that it did not process in wakefulness, says the doctor. - The film was finished, but not yet thought through - so in a dream you continue to think through it. And you will get such a wonderful adventure dream - that's all.

Previously, a somnologist explained why not everyone dreams.

How to control dreams

- The dream generator is not yet developed, science has not reached this point, admits the somnologist. — But already well mastered lucid dream technique - there is a special device that allows a person to control their dreams. This technique was developed back in the last century, at the end of the 70s at Stanford University, and it is used quite routinely.

That is, with a certain perseverance, a person can learn to control his dreams, the somnologist clarifies.

“At some point in his sleep, a person needs to understand that he is in a dream,” says Mikhail Poluektov. “When he understands this, he can change the dream. Such people are called oneironauts and they are used as participants in certain experiments. Scientists study the brain from the outside through MRI, and a person who is in a lucid dream tries to give signals from the inside so that they can be registered. Thus, it is believed that it is possible to decipher the content of a dream. But so far, these studies are just beginning. nine0003

How to solve problems in a dream

- In a dream, it is quite possible to see the solution to a problem that torments you, - says Mikhail Poluektov. - As I said, the main hypothesis for the emergence of dreams is continuum. That is, dreams are a reflection of the mental life of the brain in the daytime.

So, if we want to program ourselves to solve some problem, then we need to work on this problem in the evening - and then, most likely, if it is important enough for you, even after falling asleep it will spin in your head and in a dream you will somehow see it. It's true, whether it will be possible to solve the problem in a dream or not is unknown. nine0003

As the expert notes, more often than not all problems are solved while awake.

- Only a very small number of great discoveries have been made in dreams. This is disproportionately small. Therefore, it’s not worth hoping that in a dream you will come up with something extraordinary, says Mikhail Poluektov.

Why the same dream occurs

- A regularly repeated dream with the same plot from the point of view of psychoanalysis suggests that there is a problem, and our subconscious is trying to convey to our mind that this problem exists, and what exactly it is is, - explains the somnologist. — According to Freud, what really harms us, what is the cause of the disease, it is always so painful for us that it affects the deeper layers of our existence, and we do not allow ourselves to realize it — censorship triggered.

It is that sleep becomes a kind of window from the subconscious to the conscious, the expert says.

- A window opens in a dream, and what worries us is trying to break into consciousness, to convey information - with the help of some associations, indirect signs. But these signs still need to be deciphered, because for the personality of each person they are different. Therefore, you should not read dream books - for each person, for each specific person, there should be a dream book. nine0003

Anna May


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What do recurring dreams mean | PSYCHOLOGIES


Knowing Yourself

Shutterstock/Fotodom. ru

Dream interpretation is not easy, but the process is extremely exciting. Let's see what role recurring dreams and nightmares play. How do dreams affect life? Maybe they have some kind of clue and no one but us can understand it?

They are chasing you, but you cannot see the pursuer, you feel something terrible behind your back, but it is better not to look back. Legs become wadded, breathing is interrupted. Or you are terribly late, but it seems that you can’t get to the right place. No matter how fast you move and how far to the goal, you cannot understand what is happening, only you know: you can not stop. You run with all your might as long as your legs carry you. You suddenly wake up abruptly. Fortunately, this is only a dream, but it is not possible to shake it off immediately. nine0003

Dreams in which someone is chasing us or running somewhere are common, as are those in which we fall, have sex, go back to school.

Most people dream of scenes of persecution, this is the most common plot of children's dreams

The same scenario is repeated in people belonging to different cultures, living in different places. What is this mystery of the human mind hiding, and is there a rational explanation for it?

Unresolved problems

Dream scientists agree that dreams are psychological in nature. Scenarios—say, seeing yourself naked in the middle of a class or running down the halls—indicate strong emotions or internal conflicts. Thus, one's own nakedness is associated with shame and helplessness. The subconscious can give out such a picture if in real life a person suppresses these feelings. The version has the right to exist.

For example, you often dream that you are standing at attention in class, flunking an exam, or trying to get out of trouble. If you think about it, you can find many reasons for this. Perhaps the old school trauma and the childhood fear of the punishment that will follow if you do not cope with something reminds you of itself. Maybe you are going through a tough time and your subconscious associates stress with the classroom environment, even if you have long graduated from high school. nine0003

Images and experiences from childhood, deeply hidden in the mind, continue to influence life both in dreams and in reality when we become adults. Psychoanalysis has been working on this for decades. Attempts to interpret these symbols and erase the line between the secret and the obvious are often erroneous.

Pay attention to the context

It must be understood that there can be no single answer here. It is possible to reveal the content of a certain plot in general terms, but the context is determined by the experience and characteristics of the individual. Carl Jung believed that dreams are a means to establish a connection between consciousness and subconsciousness in the process of becoming a person, which he called "individuation". Accordingly, they simply perform their function and there is no need to decipher them. nine0003


A dream that recurs frequently can provide insight into trauma or indicate physiological and psychological problems. Before approaching the solution of symbols from a dream, one must take into account that obstacles block the path to the depths of the subconscious.

All hypotheses are good

The phenomenon of sleep paralysis confirms that the mysterious nature of sleep cannot be explained solely by scientific explanations. The same can be said about the pictures that we dream of. nine0003

Both psychological and physiological mechanisms are responsible for everything that we experience in a dream. One-sided perception is not objective. For example, why do many people dream that their teeth are falling out? This can be associated with fear of the dentist, but most often such a vision is visited by those who grind their teeth in a dream, pure physiology.

Trying to debunk the theory of the mystical and spiritual origin of dreams with the help of knowledge of physiology may seem too mundane. But if you brush aside such a banal explanation, you can miss interesting details. Much depends on the position in a dream, since at this time the pressure on different parts of the body and internal organs is unevenly distributed. For example, people often have nightmares when they sleep on their left side: studies point to a link between this position and nightmares. nine0003

Collective nightmare

Quite often an important aspect is not taken into account - the cultural factor. Talking about him, one cannot fail to mention the popular night terror: the man in the hat. The ominous silhouette has appeared to many people who have experienced sleep paralysis. Horror when a stranger in a hat comes to destroy you, and you can not move. The vision is so real and impressive that after such an incident, one person created the blog The Hat Man Project (trans. The Man in a Hat Project): he did research and found people who also described a similar figure that arose with sleep paralysis. The resource still exists, anyone can share their feelings and thoughts about the eerie vision. nine0003

How is it possible that all these people dreamed of the same evil character? If we assume that the state of sleep paralysis opens a portal to other worlds, it turns out that the parallel reality is extremely hostile to ours?

There is a hypothesis according to which those who are faced with the unknown try to find in the subconscious culturally accessible solution

The state of stupor in a dream from the area of ​​the unknown. When a person is threatened by something, instinct makes you panic. nine0003

The demons that sit on the chest of a sleeping person, depicted in old drawings, are one of the confirmations of what incredible images our psyche creates. The man in the hat, in turn, resembles Freddy Krueger. The movie A Nightmare on Elm Street is based on the experience of sleep paralysis and Freddie is created as a symbolic embodiment of evil. However, it does not matter what came first, the egg or the chicken. The main thing is that the man in the hat makes the imagination of the sleeping people real.

What have we come to? What are nightmares hiding? Perhaps they have a bit of everything from the above and something that has not yet been given to understand. The realm of dreams is uncharted territory, so it pays to keep your mind open to all possible hypotheses. To understand yourself and your dreams, you will have to penetrate deeper into them and put together all the fragments and small pieces. If you decide to do this, the unknown will cease to frighten. Who knows, suddenly the door to a new reality will open before us. nine0003

Three books on the topic
  1. Sigmund Freud "The Interpretation of Dreams"

  2. Georges Romet "Dictionary of Dream Symbols" How the unconscious helps us find answers, know ourselves and see changes in reality”

Text: Elena Anisimova Photo source: Shutterstock

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