Last change: October 29, 1998.

Vidid dreams and nightmares

One of the results of the 1997 survey was that many respondents complained about having dreams or having nightmares. The best thing I can do at this moment is to share my thoughts on this topic. Please realize that I'm not a certified psychologist, I'm writing here as a CFS-patient who was already very interested in dreaming before he got the disease. What I have to offer is merely some information for other patients, to let them know they're not the only ones with sleep and dreaming complaints.

You should also realize that both vivid dreams and nightmares may be induced by medication. After this possible cause has been eliminated, I suspect the typical CFS mess of hormones and other chemicals to be responsible. Obviously, there is little that you can do about that, you wouldn't have CFS otherwise.

Vivid dreams

Many respondents complained about vivid dreams. Some explained that dreams were so vivid that they had problems to separate waking and dreaming realities. No doubt that fear to be labeled as (slightly) insane also is an issue. Two respondent expressed being uneasy to tell about their experiences with vivid dreams.

Drawing from my own experience, I can come up with the following observations that may be of help to others:

  • Sleeping problems can in a nasty way interfere with the transgression between the dreaming reality and the waking reality. If it feels like you awake every other minute, it is possible you have something on your mind that bothers you. The last thing you need is intruding and confusing memories of dreams. Also, because you wake up so often, you may remember much and much more of your dreams then you're accustomed too. Personally I'm at ease with remembering many of my dreams, but being continuously thrown around between dreaming and waking states is an entirely different matter.

    If you are aware of something bothering you, you may have found a solution to your sleep problem. For example, I can get into this type of sleeping / dreaming problem when I try to force myself standing up while my body refuses and insists on sleeping for a few hours longer.

  • Fever (and perhaps medication too - I don't know) can make things even worse, generating endlessly repeating images that feel a maddening torture.

  • Vivid dreams can be unsettling because they challenge your normal view of the world and may have you fear for you sanity. Here at last I can offer some comfort: as long as you don't start hallucinating during the normal daily activities, I don't think there is anything to be afraid of.


Nightmares are dreams with a disturbing content. I like to distinguish the following categories:
  1. Nightmares that are frightening during the dream.
  2. Violent dreams, however without the expected level of pain or fear.
  3. Dreams that become nightmares after waking up.
The first category is very common and often involves chases by some dark unseen enemy. The advice in popular dreaming literature is to realize to confront your enemy in your dreams. More on this follows in a next chapter.

The second category is more disturbing than frightening. Violence in dreams can symbolize psychological problems or the resolving of a particular problem, but when you're ill it is just as likely to represent the physical problems you're dealing with. For example, I see my own dreams about being stabbed in the back as a symbol for how I feel betrayed by suddenly getting a disease. There does not seem to be any reason for this disease and there is no known cause or explanation. But most of my violence dreams show a direct relationship to my physical condition. The more violence, the higher the need for me to get some drastic rest immediately.

I have no idea how common the third category is. I'm thinking here about dreams that suddenly make you realize things about yourself that aren't always flattering, or dreams that show you possible scenarios of future events you weren't prepared for.

Traumatic experiences

Nightmares reflecting traumatic experiences like violence, incest or war are an entirely different category than everything mentioned above. I'm no psychologist or social worker myself, but it seems to me that if dreams have you collapse under a flood of frightening emotions, you should consider getting professional help.

Self-help for nightmares

Central in working with nightmares is the fact that you're safe in dreams. Even if the monster gets you, there is nothing that can happen. Contrary to the superstitious belief some are still spreading, dying in a dream does not mean that you really die. Either the dreams continues with a new scene were you are alive again or you wake up.

Realizing that nothing can hurt you in a dream opens the way to resolve nightmares. One approach is to program yourself to face your fears in the dream. Don't be disappointed if this does not work right away as it can require some focus and determination to make this step. You can do your self-suggestions at various moments. A suitable moment is just before going to sleep. Also very effective is immediately after waking up from a nightmare. In that case you could also try to replay the dream in your thoughts, with the minor difference that you imagine facing whatever frightens you.

If you have problems recalling a dream even though you wake up frightened there are various possibilities. The nightmare is so very frightening that from some sort of psychological self-protection you forget the contents immediately after waking up. Try to rule this possibility out as good as you can. Don't move at waking up, stay in exactly the same position. Try to remember anything, however small or trivial. Then wait a few minutes and see if something else comes back.

If there doesn't seem to be any dream at all, then perhaps it is not so much a dream that is frightening, but your body that is playing tricks on you. Something you may want to consider in this case is self-suggestion before going to sleep. Instead of focussing on facing the monster in your dreams, ask for an uplifting dream that will help you to sleep well and to wake up with a good and happy mood.

Finally, there is a slight chance that you're suffering from night terrors. Night terrors occur during the stage of light sleep and are usually accompanied by shouting and sitting straight up. Unfortunately night terrors are still a mystery and there's no treatment.

You can email me with any remarks or questions:
Harry Bosma,

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