My entire life, I’ve been plagued with recurring dreams and nightmares (more of the latter, unfortunately.) I am often trapped on an elevator trying to get to a floor and unable to convince it to stop there, lost in my old high school trying to find a class I’ve never attended to take a final, trapped in a house with millions of rooms and unable to find the one I need. I am being slowly suffocated, usually. When I was a kid, I often had nightmares of sitting at a table with a bandaid and a bowl of milk. I would dip the bandaid in the milk and then start wringing it out, and the tighter I wound it, the harder it was to breathe and the greater the pressure on my chest. I would wake up unable to breathe and covered in sweat. I also had nightmares of a lit cigarette threatening to light my house on fire, and being unable to move or breathe to warn my sleeping family of the peril. The closer I got to the house, the more I was choked, and it became harder to move, to breathe, because the cigarette smoke was cloying. I think now, as an adult, at least the cigarette dream was about my father, who was a chain-smoking alcoholic with bipolar disorder. Many of my nightmares feature his laughter in it as I’m being tortured.
Most of my recurring dreams lead to panic attacks. I wake up curled in a ball, or tangled in the sheets, unable to move or breathe or call out. I can’t get to my medication, it’s hard to go through any thought-stopping exercises or breathing exercises to calm down, because I am still gasping for air as if underwater.
A recurring dream is a dream which is experienced repeatedly over a long period.
A person who experiences post-traumatic stress disorder may have recurring dreams about the traumatic event. (Emphasis mine)
The subjects of recurring dreams vary, and they often include events or settings from the dreamers’ own experiences. The following examples are common:
The sensation of falling
Being held down or otherwise unable to move (compare sleep paralysis)
Nakedness in a public place
Being held back in school or failing a test
Losing teeth or the ability to speak
Escaping or being caught in a tornado/storm
Drowning, or otherwise not being able to breathe
Finding lost items
Finding new rooms in one’s house
Unable to turn on the lights in one’s house
Many of the dreams listed above, such as flying, falling sensations, or everyday activities (turning on/off lights) would be classified as hypnagogic hallucinations. Hypnagogic hallucinations are vivid sensations that occur between being awake and just falling asleep .
Like any dream, recurring dreams have invited many interpretations.
And while we’re on the subject of Hypnagogic hallucinations, I recently learned the name for the phenomenon that often wakes me from a dead sleep: exploding head syndrome.
Exploding head syndrome is a form of hypnagogic auditory hallucination in which the sufferer sometimes experiences a sudden loud noise coming from within their own head. The noise is brief and is usually likened to an explosion, roar, gunshot, door slamming, loud voices or screams, a ringing noise, or the sound of electrical arcing (buzzing).
This noise usually happens at the onset of sleep or within an hour or two of falling asleep, but is not necessarily the result of a dream. Although the sound is perceived as extremely loud, it is usually not accompanied by pain. Attacks appear to change in number over time, with several attacks happening in a space of days or weeks, followed by months of remission. Sufferers often feel a sense of fear and anxiety after an attack, accompanied by elevated heart rate. Attacks may also be accompanied by perceived flashes of light (when perceived on their own, known as a “visual sleep start”) or difficulty in breathing. The condition is also known as “auditory sleep starts”. The associated symptoms are varied, but the benign nature of the condition is emphasized and neither extensive investigation nor treatment are indicated. Sufferers may experience an inability to vocalize any sound, or mild forms of sleep paralysis during an attack.
Strange that something that has happened to me for years, finally has a name (and oddly enough, I think I have a Cracked article to thank for finally being able to give it a name, and understand it. Not only that, I’ve experienced three out of those five things- random hallucinations, and sleep paralysis, in addition to the exploding head thing. Oh, joy.)
I usually see and hear something zapping me. It’s also similar to the halo effect I get before a migraine, where my vision goes gray and I see what appears to be zigzags and the wheels of a saw in front of my vision. It will suddenly zap me and everything is black and white zigzags, and suddenly I am lurching out of bed, trying to figure out what that noise was and why I thought it was going to kill me.
Now that it isn’t summer anymore, my air conditioner in the living room isn’t blasting all day long. I’ll turn it on for the fan function to move air around, but by evening it’s too cold in the house and I turn it off. Without that noise, I’ve discovered that my downstairs neighbor bellows constantly. It doesn’t appear to matter what time of day, and he’s usually in his bedroom, which is directly below mine. So now he’s triggering some of these episodes, as I get triggered VERY badly by yelling, especially when it’s a man yelling. He wakes me out of a dead sleep a LOT. I’ve got a fan in my room for white noise but clearly I need to find something else that’s louder to drown him out. I’ll wake up in a horrible panic attack now thanks to hearing him working his way up into a bellowing fit at whatever hour he feels like doing it. The entire weekend before New Year’s, as well as New Year’s eve and day, he was yelling almost constantly. Is it any wonder that I spent most of that time curled in a ball, having an ongoing panic attack?
…Aaand now they’re both yelling. Awesome.