Q. I’m a female in my 50’s. I have always been bothered by recurring nightmares, but lately they are worse. I know I’m not getting good sleep. What can be the cause of these and can anything be done?
A. There are many reasons for frequent nightmares, but the most common one is an increase in anxiety. Many people do not deal with their fears during the day. They may not even be aware that they are worried, or they may simply not want to think about their problems. At night, the avoided anxiety resurfaces and nightmares may occur.
Many factors can activate your anxiety. Has a child gone to college or been in trouble? Have you experienced the death of someone close to you? Are you having problems in a relationship or on your job? Are you worried about your health? If you think your issue is anxiety, it is important to resolve the problems that are troubling you.
Another factor that may exacerbate nightmares is alcohol consumption. A few drinks will often help one to fall asleep faster; however, alcohol consumption negatively impacts restorative sleep and can cause one to remain in a sleep stage where nightmares are more prevalent.
If you are taking a medication that affects the neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain), you may also be having an increase in nightmares. These include medications for depression such as Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac and Cymbalta. Other medications that may increase the likelihood of nightmares are antihistamines, beta blockers and sleeping pills.
If nightmares continue to heighten your distress, speak with your physician. Additionally, if you believe the nightmares are anxiety related, a cognitive behavior therapist can teach you effective ways to resolve your issues and to manage your stress.
Q. My husband, who is retired, stays up until 2 or 3 and sleeps until 11 or 12. I have to get up before 6 for work, so I go to bed early. I know he has insomnia, but I don’t feel he makes an effort. This is a real problem on weekends when I would like to go places together, but he’s still asleep at noon. What should I do?
A. Hopefully, your husband realizes that this is a problem in your marriage. If the emotional and physical distance between you continue, communications will falter and resentment will begin on the part of both parties.
Since you cannot control your sleep schedule, your husband needs to change his night owl habits and address his insomnia. According to psychologist Rubin Naiman, the first thing a night owl should do is to prepare for bed earlier. If your husband waits until 10 to start paying bills, looking at e-mails, or playing computer games, he will be too stimulated to sleep.
Dr. Naiman suggests that it is important for night owls to limit their exposure to “blue light” before bedtime. The blue end of the light spectrum which is omitted by televisions and computers reduces the amount of melatonin in the brain. Exposure to too much blue light in the evening is the equivalent of having several cups of coffee before bedtime.
According to Dr. Naiman, people with insomnia should dim the lights and engage in activities that do not involve the television or computer at least two hours before bedtime. If your husband does not respond to this suggestion, you may consider buying blue-blocker filters (lowbluelights.com) for him to use in the evening.
It is important that your husband respects your time and energy. In addition to going to bed early, he can attempt to alter his sleep habits by waking up at the same time daily, getting regular exercise, and taking a short nap during the day.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.