Lately, I’ve been having a very difficult time trying to fall asleep. I’ve tried different over the counter sleep aides that don’t help me at all. I’ve also tried drinking alcohol to the point of becoming “tipsy” to try to fall asleep. Nothing really helps. And when I manage to finally fall asleep, I have these dreams that make me feel like I’m not asleep. Like I’ve entered another realm of reality. I have a difficult time waking up. And when I do, I’m so confused because I believe I was elsewhere. These dreams affect my emotions throughout the day. I’m not sure if this is a product of the aftermath of being sexually assaulted almost 2 years ago or not. But I can’t stand living this way. What is going on? (age 22, from US)I Can’t Tell that I’m Dreaming
I Can’t Tell that I’m Dreaming
A: Sleep issues can be caused by so many things that it can sometimes be difficult to understand what the real culprit is and how to address it. Sleep is vital to healthy functioning but can be affected by our physical state, emotional state, environmental influences and so on.
Dreams are a complex phenomenon as well, and can also be affected by many factors such as stress, food, alcohol, and medication. Sometimes the content of dreams is made up of images and information that we have seen or heard recently and they may not even make much sense. However, other times our dreams are a window into our unconscious mind and may be related to our life experiences or current stressors.
I can’t be certain that your sleep difficulties are related to your traumatic experience, but there is a high likelihood that they are. One of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is hypervigalence or heightened awareness. This can happen in the sleep state as well, in that there is a part of you that is always “on guard.”
I hope that you have spoken with a therapist about your sexual assault and if you haven’t, I encourage you to do so. You may also considering making an appointment with a sleep specialist. I’m including a link to the National Sleep Foundation for more general information. I wish you sweet dreams.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts