Mental-Cognitive Symptoms

Can Anxiety Cause a Dream Overload?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Can Anxiety Cause a Dream Overload?

Everyone knows that anxiety affects thoughts. But what you may not know is that anxiety can affect your subconscious and unconscious mind as well. Your dreams are affected by what you do and think during the day, and in many cases they may create more intense, vivid, and incredible dreams that may cause you to wonder: are dreams and anxiety related?

How Anxiety Affects Thoughts

Every type of anxiety disorder has the potential to affect how you think, what you worry about, and what you experience during the day. That is why it is important to learn about your anxiety so that you can understand and eventually take steps to cure it.

Dream Interpretation and Anxiety

Scientists currently believe that dreams do not necessarily have meaning. That is they believe that dream interpretation itself is likely an untruth in science. Many psychotherapists however, understand dreams as the gateway to our unconscious. There are two beliefs about dreams:

  • Sleep is when memories and brain connections are made and dreaming occurs because the brain tries to make connections between various thoughts. Any dream is your brain’s way of turning these thoughts into a story so that it makes sense to you. This is why dreams are often so random and unusual. The content in dreams can occur at any time in your life as it is what is happening at an unconscious level in the mind.
  • While dreams are not trying to inform you about something that is going to happen, you can still learn something by interpreting it. For example, if you believe that the dream meant something to you, and you can begin to unravel it, this may help to understand the way your mind is working. Thinking about what the dream means to you can be revealing to yourself. Below demonstrates how anxiety and negative thinking may affect our dreams:
  • Many Thoughts Those with anxiety are far more likely to have a lot of random, interspersed, and nervous thoughts. As a result their dreams may be covering a wider range of topics than the average person, thus giving more interesting and strange storylines which the person may or may not remember.
  • Emotional Effect Your emotions when you are falling asleep can affect your dreams and any anxiety will change the way you dream based on your nervous disposition and thoughts.
  • Memory Those with anxiety also have a tendency to focus on things they otherwise wouldn't focus on. So it is possible that you're not actually having more unique dreams, but rather your brain is trying harder to remember them when you wake up. Those without anxiety may wake up and focus on their day, while those with anxiety may wake up and focus on their dreams.
  • Neurotransmitters Somehow, neurotransmitters likely play a role in dreaming, and they also can be affected by anxiety. Kava, a common herbal supplement for anxiety, is known to affect dreaming, and it's believed this is because of the way it affects your brain chemistry. It is possible that anxiety itself does something similar to your brain.
  • Sleep Problems Anxiety also creates sleep problems. In most ways, anxiety actually prevents sleep, and so dreaming will be less common. But if this occurs, the body is more likely to have deeper sleeps when it is able to get rest due to how tired the mind is. This may, although studies have yet to demonstrate this, cause the brain to get to REM faster and possibly create more intense dreams.

Not all dreams are going to be stressful or cause anxiety. In fact, it's not uncommon to have relatively normal dreams that are simply more intense than you experienced without anxiety. But since emotions affect dreams and since anxious thoughts all day could create some anxious dreaming, anxiety inducing dreams are not a surprise.

Night Panic and Anxiety

It should also be noted that some people with anxiety experience nighttime panic attacks, and may attribute that to their dreams. But anxiety actually isn't the leading cause of nighttime panic attacks. Those are usually caused by people who experience a condition called sleep apnea, this is a disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep

Is Dream Overload Preventable?

Contrary to what some believe, dreams aren't something you can easily control. Ideally, the way to control your dreams is by controlling your thoughts and your emotions, and the only way to do that is to focus on some way to reduce your anxiety.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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