Over the last few months I have started having some really bad dreams; I wouldn’t say they all felt like nightmares, but they all shared one thing in common, I experienced anxiety and panic in them to a level where I was paralysed (in the dream that is).
I have experienced nightmares in the past, I’ve been chased by dinosaurs, had spiders or snakes about to bite me, but for some reason none had the lasting effect that these anxious dreams have had.
The anxious dreams are so clear that you wake up struggling to know what is real and what isn’t. I had one dream (I can’t remember exactly what it was about) that felt so real that when I woke the radio was on, I lay there, waiting for the news because they would be reporting on what happened. Imagine my surprise and confusion when no mention was made; on national news! How could they have missed it….. what was going on?
Most of the dreams don’t wake me, so technically they aren’t classed as nightmares, but they feel pretty terrifying to me. In them, I will be driven to such a level of panic where I can’t breathe and can’t move I just curl up on the floor. I usually wake up exhausted, much more tired than when I went to bed, and they can have a lasting effect on my mood for the rest of the day.
I struggle with anger, and this comes up in a lot of my dreams; I have arguments with people, where I am screaming at them and am burning with rage; I have tasks to do that I struggle with, especially if there is a time pressure (maybe I should stop watching Masterchef?); In one dream I went food shopping and was told everything I had bought was wrong; “well you go and do it!” I screamed as a response.
One of the most recent ones included me being followed by three guys who wanted to attack me; I ran into a McDonalds and waited behind a door; as the men entered I stabbed them in their throats with a pen…. I remember feeling that this didn’t seem overly excessive, which was rather unsettling.
Sometimes I do thrash about and cry out to a point where Kim has to wake me up (if Leo is asleep at the bottom of the bed he can sometimes get a kick, luckily he doesn’t retaliate now, he just goes under the bed where it’s safer), apparently these are classed as night terrors!
I had to go to my GP for a medication review so I told him about the dreams and his response surprised me, and was very clear cut “oh that will be the sertraline.”
Great, the medication I am taking for anxiety is causing me to have nightmares…..
When you search for side effects of sertraline on the NHS website, the list is pretty long:
being unable to sleep
feeling tired or weak
These are just the ‘common’ ones; it suggests you read the leaflet inside the box for the full list…..
I love the fact that it states that it can cause depression and anxiety….. and ‘feeling strange’
Now, this is not a medication bashing exercise, the sertraline and diazapan that I have been prescribed have really helped, especially in the beginning when I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on with my head. The anxiety was so unbearable that the quick fix was important in order to get me functioning at all.
The main thing this shows is that these medications are not for the long term. My GP warned me that diazapan can be addictive, so I had to take it only when I really needed it. Plus they were never going to work brilliantly when you add alcohol to the mix.
Anyway, back to the dreams, why does the medication have such an effect on them?
If you have clinical depression (which tends to go hand in hand with anxiety) then this can alter the part of sleep associated with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and this is where dreaming occurs.
Depression decreases the length of time it takes to enter REM sleep (REM sleep latency) and increases the frequency of rapid eye movement during sleep (REM sleep density), because of these changes people with depression report having more negative or bad dreams.
Recent research has shown that antidepressants can also impact dreams through affecting REM sleep; they may induce positive or negative dream emotions, influence how often you dream and decrease your recollection of dreams.
In 2013 a report was published (Gothard Tribl) that concluded that antidepressants belonging to the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) class, including Serotonin-norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) intensified dreams, and increased how often people reported having nightmares.
Guess what? Sertraline is one of these.
Tricyclic antidepressants tended to produce more positive dreams, and in one study this was shown to improve depression; so it sort of depends what you have been prescribed.
More research needs to be done in this field, so this is by no means conclusive, but it is a wee bit worrying. As the owner of my local health food shop said “they seem to have just moved your anxiety from the day time to the night time.”
As I said, I am not demonising medication, like most things, it has a purpose, but if you do have any questions about specific medication you are taking, then it is best to speak to your GP.
I have made the decision to come off the sertraline; partly because I prefer more natural remedies and partly because I have had enough of the anxious dreams making me feel shit. I will let you know if the dreams go away once I am completely off the sertraline.
One note of caution; if you do decide to come off any sort of medication make sure you speak to your GP first so that you can put a plan in place, and they can help monitor your progress.
I will be exploring more about alternatives to medication in future blogs; until then…. sweet dreams…..
Thank you, thank you, thank you