Persistent Scary Dreams

I have had, at times, persistent scary dreams. Then there were times I have been fully awake and hoping what was happening was really just a dream. And I’d soon wake up.

Neither of these things is actually tangible. A dream is like sheer curtains. The things you see in your dream are blurry around the edges. As though you’re attempting to take a photo and can’t get the focus right.

In my recurrent dream of late, I am looking for my car. It’s getting darker by the minute. But I cannot locate my car in all the many rows of cars.

So I’m beginning to panic, thinking I will be spending the night in the dark by myself still walking the rows of cars looking for mine. And it always seems as though someone has somehow moved it from where I parked it.

A Slightly Different Dream:

Sometimes I have the dream where I finally find my car, with vast relief. And I start to drive home.

But the signs on the streets are indistinguishable and I can’t figure out where I am. Nothing is where I thought it was. So I drive and drive endlessly, searching for my way home.

And then other times the car breaks down. Another fly in the jam jar.

I wake up from these dreams a bit foggy, then realize I am in my bed and I am safe. And happily, it was just a dream.

Psychological Triggers That Can Cause Nightmares:

It is said that there can be a number of psychological triggers that cause nightmares in adults. For example, anxiety and depression can cause adult nightmares.

There is a difference between bad dreams and nightmares.

In sleep medicine, nightmares have a more strict definition than in everyday language. Both involve disturbing dream content. But only a nightmare causes you to wake up from sleep.

When Do Nightmares Occur:

Nightmares arise more frequently in the second half of the night when more time is spent in REM sleep.

They usually begin in childhood at around age 10 and are more common in girls than boys.

Nightmares most commonly occur during REM sleep, which is when our brain produces proteins and stimulates our learning.

During this time, the brain also sends signals to the limbs to cause temporary paralysis. A way of stopping us from actually acting out our dreams in real life.

What Can Cause Nightmares:

One theory states that during REM sleep, your brain is trying to organize and interpret the signals it’s receiving.

In order to do this, your brain creates a ‘story’ out of the fragmented brain activity.

Research says that in 60% of cases, a major life event precedes the onset of nightmares. Be it illness, bereavement, or the end of a relationship.

Anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders are also associated with nightmares.

Raising your metabolism by eating just before bed can also increase the likelihood of bad dreams.

A Nightmare That Wasn’t Actually A Nightmare:

Or even worse was the time I was driving and lost time. I don’t mean I lost time because of an obstacle or that I ran out of gas. I actually “lost time.”

I was driving from Oklahoma to Texas during an upsetting time in my life. And I made the decision to stop and get a bite to eat at noon. I looked down at the clock in the car and saw that it was 11 a.m.

The next thing I know, I am struggling to come out of this fugue-like state. Kind of like attempting to fight your way out of a spider web you’ve walked into.

I looked around and I realized I had no idea where I am. Nor can I account for the two hours that have passed.

What Is Dissociation:

They say that dissociation is a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity.

Maybe what happened was linked to how emotional I felt that day.

But I will take nightmares during sleep any day of the week over that happening again.

What Triggers Dissociation:

Triggers are sensory stimuli connected with a person’s trauma, and dissociation is an overload response.

Even years after the traumatic event or circumstances have ceased, certain sights, sounds, smells, touches, and even tastes can trigger a cascade of unwanted memories and feelings.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. – Edgar Allan Poe



  1. Occasionally, I’ll hear a sound that “wakes me up,” and I really feel like I’m awake. I’m not sure if I really am though. It feels like I can consciously think about things, but I’m unable to move or speak. Usually, I get the feeling someone else is in the room with me. Since I can’t move, or make a sound, it’s always scary. I try so hard to make a sound, hoping a grunt will escape and wake my husband and he will wake me up, and sometimes that works. That sleep paralysis is crazy. Not sure I described that well, but maybe you’ll know the feeling I’m talking about. As far as regular dreams, the ones I actually remember are usually crazy and make no sense at all. They do when I’m dreaming them, but when I wake up, they are just ridiculous.

  2. Fascinating! I’ve had some nightmares that I can’t shake off for days. Thankfully, it’s a rare occurrence.

  3. I wonder if your inability to locate your car while dreaming is linked to your search for a condo?

  4. Dear Brenda, I have experienced nightmares of and on my entire life. All coming from my childhood family life, which was troubling. At 70 yo and still having occasional NM, I just get up make a cup of tea and read. It helps me but doesn’t remove the NM.

  5. Brenda, this is so interesting, I had no idea there was a difference between bad dreams and nightmares. I agree with one of the comments above, there is so much scary bad stuff in the world that is is hard to keep this out of your subconscious and not dream/bad dream about it.

  6. What was Poe’s traumatic experience(s)? Does anyone know? He was definitely a depressive.

  7. I strongly believe it is important to not read horror stories, or even very stressful ones anymore…and my sleep is much more peaceful too. I agree that previous trauma, or grief can drive dreams. But I think everything we see, hear, read, etc can leave an imprint. I have a lot of dreams that make no sense but almost none anymore that trouble me…I hope you figure out some ways to avoid these types. It may even be connected to something we ate close to bedtime, or even earlier in the evening too I think…take care Brenda…you have gone through quite the wringer in real life…

  8. I have very strange – but interesting! – dreams most every night. I think most people dream, but just don’t remember them upon waking. I do. Sometimes I do have scary dreams and I do have nightmares once or twice a year.

  9. I have a reoccurring dream of not being able to find my classroom! The first picture that you posted, the one with the moon and the trees and water, looks very similar to the view behind my house!

  10. Interesting post. In my dreams, I’m usually in some turmoil. I dream that I witness a murder and can’t find my phone to call the police. Or, I will dream that I’m sitting in high school English class and I look down, and I’m wearing only my underwear. I think having feelings of insecurity cause those type dreams.

  11. Wow how scary that you had that episode of not remembering the two hours of driving. Amazing how our brains work during times of great emotional stress. I have a reoccuring dream of not remembering my locker combo in high school. So weird. Have a great new week ahead.

  12. Your dream is so interesting Brenda. I have never seen a clock or the time in any of my dreams, and I’ve read, (don’t know where anymore) that most of us never see a clock or the time in a dream. But like you, I do have nightmares, and I am so glad when I wake myself, to find it was only a dream. They sure do seem real tho…don’t they? I hate to go to sleep after wards, because I didn’t want it to pick up, where it left off. That never happened, so guess no need to worry.
    Oh, just want to say, I love the new “Cozy little House” header on the blog. PERFECT!!!!

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