The downside to vivid dreams is vivid nightmares

The other day I wrote up the amazing Harry Potter alien invasion dream I had. I’ve always had very detailed, realistic dreams that I remember upon waking up. But the downside to that is what happened the following night: vivid nightmares.

I had two that night.

In the first I was with my mom, but told her I’d be right back. While I was gone I got distracted by this teenage girl who was working on some science project for school, and was distraught about what people think about her because she was embarrassed by what she had done. I sat down and had a long pep talk with her, and tried to tell her how these little things are trivial in the grand scheme of things. It was just a middle school science project, and it wasn’t going to ruin her life if it was mediocre. I told her you shouldn’t care so much about what other people think of you, because most people aren’t even paying attention and that anxiety is irrational. But if they’re being mean to her, she shouldn’t even care what they think. You don’t need to make everyone like you, especially if they’re assholes. Why do you validation from assholes?

After the pep talk, I rushed back to find my mom, realizing I had been gone for longer than I said. When I came back and found my uncle, my mom’s brother, standing there red-eyed, and I asked what was wrong. His voice was the angriest I had heard it and he said I had been gone so long that my mother was so worried she had a heart attack and died. It was my fault. I broke down into hysterics crying, and woke up crying.

In the second separate dream, I was taking care of my parents’ house for them. I went into our laundry room, and noticed there was a little crack in the floor and a small hole was forming. I thought that was pretty dangerous and knew I needed to do something about it. Before I did anything else, I wanted to try to cover the hole so our cat Zoe wouldn’t fall through to the basement and hurt herself. As I was looking around for something to cover the hole, the crack rumbled and opened up, and the whole laundry room floor crumbled beneath me. Zoe and I fell down into the basement and were crushed in the rubble.

I’m not sure if there’s any more clear way for my subconscious to tell me “You feel guilty that you can’t always be there for your mom and the amount you care about others instead of taking care of yourself is crushing you” than those dreams. But I already knew those things.

Sometimes I envy the people who have dreamless, restful sleep.


  1. tmscott says

    “… To sleep perchance to dream … Conscience makes cowards of us all.”

    Your dreams may disturb your sleep now, but should ensure that you get to sleep in the future. They do you credit.


  2. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I find all these posts about dreams fascinating. I like hearing people talk about their dreams because it seems so strange to me. I can never in my life remember having a dream. Not even fading memories of dreams in the moments before being fully awake. A friend of mine got heavy into lucid dreaming a while ago, and I tried all his supposed tricks for remembering dreams, and I got nothing.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on all this cool free entertainment that everyone else is getting, then I hear about nightmares and I think I’m better off without em.

  3. says

    I have found that it’s possible to “direct” dreams — I’ve done it many times when a dream becomes disturbing. I quite literally change the scenario. Gain the ability to fly so the hole in the floor doesn’t present a hazard…that sort of thing.

    I’d suggest you try that. Turn them silly. Have Jessica Rabbit show up or something.

  4. Alverant says

    You’re not alone. Every now and then I get a dream so vivid I forget which town I was in. (I’ve lived in the same house for seven years.) Some dreams even have me going back to a town I lived in for just two years. For some reason these vivid dreams involve me either trying to get to one place (usually work or home) or going through room after room in a house until I get to some secret area at the end with some cool and forgotten stuff at the end.

    Then I wake up and have to think hard for a moment to remember whether or not I’m visiting my parents or in my home.

  5. Alverant says


    I tried that but the moment I realize I’m dreaming, I wake up. It was the only time I prayed to God. I said, “God if you’re real let me continue this cool dream.” I got a nightmare instead.

  6. evandrofisico says

    @Alverant, You can try some techniques of lucid dreaming. After some time, modifying dreams becomes absolutely natural, to the point that even if you are not so aware of the dream, you can alter it. There are even some studies using it to treat recurrent nightmares.

    Also, when I had nightmares similar to the Jen’s first one, where there is no physical distress, but psychological stress, lucid dreaming was totally useless.

  7. says

    I can lucid dream sometimes. I’ve definitely had moments where I’m like “fuck this zombie horde I’m just going to fly away” and it works. But not all the time.

  8. Holms says

    I once woke up and headed in to highschool somewhere in year 10 convinced that I was actually starting year 12 that day. I felt so unprepared: “Oh shit I don’t remember a thing from year 11” sort of thing. Funny in retrospect, but it scared the shit out of me at the time.

    Usually though I just dream about bumping into old friends. They always barely recognise me, fidget awkwardly while I gush over how long it’s been etc, refuse the suggestion that we should catch up, then go away to carry on their lives that always turn out to be better than mine.

    You can have my dreams if yours are getting too racy for you.

  9. Arkady says

    A couple of days ago I had a dream about an overly bureaucratic zombie apocalypse. Every lull between being chased by zombies was filled with signing consent forms for various decontamination procedures. Which had to be stamped with a potato stamp by the end. Somehow a screening of a film of the Silmarillion was also involved in the middle of it all…

    {hugs} I hope your dreams improve Jen, or at least take a shift from terrifying to bizarre. I went through a period a while back of having dreams where random friends of my parents kept turning up to tell me my parents had died, wasn’t nice.

  10. chris says

    I have very similar and vivid dreams. Sometimes I am myself dealing with a strangely warped version of my house, other times I am some other character stuck inside some kind of odd sci-fi/horror movie. The latter happened recently after my youngest suggested I listen to the “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast (from Commonplace Books, or something similar, where they expound on ideas by H.P. Lovecraft).

    Now the following has to do with a structure near you: the NE 45th St. Viaduct. When I am driving a car in my dreams I end up on a very steep road that is a bridge way up in the air. I finally figured out that it was a warped version of NE 45th between 20th NE and the UVillage.

    By the way when I was younger (closer to your age), I would act out my dreams. After reading Dragonriders of Pern I was in bed and dreamed that the red thread was streaming down to me from the ceiling, and started to scream. Dear hubby was in the basement, where he found a baseball bat and ran up to see what was wrong.

  11. says

    used to have nightmares frequently. A year or so ago I also began to have really scary nightmares – the kind in which I might all of a sudden get up discovering my entire pillow drenched in sweat.

    Terrifyingly it was always a similar ordeal: I was at the mall when suddenly wind would asphyxiate me. Then I would wake up breathless and horrified, too afraid to go back to sleep.

    It’s like a memory of the past now, but in those days I absolutely dreaded getting rest. I would try the weirdest sleep techniques to avoid dreams, but I always would lose the fight against the urge to rest.

    In any case after a terrible dream I decided to scanning forums with the intent of finding potential remedies when I stumbled upon the idea of lucid dreaming. I discovered various electronic “courses” with various techniques for lucid dreaming. In spite of this, after experimenting with them approaches for about four weeks I continued to have no containment over my dreams. I then noticed an Internet review on one method – – and due to frustration spent money it. And it was a really smart decision… After around four weeks I noticed great control over my nightmares. My experience makes me think that it was due to the compelling sound cues in the Lucid Dreaming Fast Track product.

    Anyway, that’s all I have to offer.

  12. thesandiseattle says

    I’ve had a few vivid dreams lately myself. Usually after an active day, which means right now the night after the temp service gets me a gig. (so hate working temp.)

  13. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Is there any actual evidence that dreams are supposed to be “coded messages” of this sort? That’s always seemed like magical thinking to me.

    (…um, I don’t know if this sort of comment is Unhelpful?)

  14. rnilsson says

    Maybe your unfettered unconscious is struggling with your over-developed empathy?

    Also, one day your mom will die, as you well know, and as we all shall. The “trick” is to have lived a good and beneficial life before that day comes. And something in the way you present, here, tells me that your mom has already accomplished that. Not to say she could do a bit more of that given yet some more time …

    Even if you get run over by a bus tomorrow, maybe you too have already left an overall positive mark on the world?

    All the best, ever.

  15. teele says

    I find this interesting. For most of my life, I had very vivid dreams, both good and bad. The nightmares could be so bad that it would affect my mood for the next couple of days. My dreams were so vivid that there are some that I can still recall in detail up to 40 years later.

    About ten years ago my husband became very concerned because I would stop breathing while sleeping, for up to a minute, several times each night. I was also tired all the time. I had a sleep test and was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and prescribed a CPAP machine, which I use to this day. During the time I have used my CPAP, I have awakened maybe a half-dozen times remembering my dreams. I sometimes miss the funny dreams, and the flying dreams, but it has been fantastic not experiencing the paralyzing dreams, the “inventory” dreams, the falling dreams, the on-stage-but-can’t-remember-my-lines dreams, and all the other nightmares (seriously, I would remember up to 3 dreams every day, I used to categorize them). I assume I still dream, but my subconscious is doing its work now without spilling over into my waking life, and I like that just fine.

  16. latsot says

    A lot of my dreams involve my explaining very complicated things to other people, which is more or less what I do in real life. This suggests a fairly catastrophic failure of imagination.

    All the dreams I can remember have been lucid. At least, I remember them being lucid, I don’t really know how to trust my memory on this issue. I can direct how my dreams go but only within certain arbitrary boundaries which are different in each dream. I’m aware of those boundaries while I’m dreaming but usually can’t change them.

    Dreams are weird.

  17. chris says


    Even if you get run over by a bus tomorrow, maybe you too have already left an overall positive mark on the world?

    Cripes! This morning I dreamed that the bus entered my house, came up the stairs and made a stop by my bed. In my dream I got up and held the door open for it to leave. I tried to stay out of its way.

    Because who wants to get run over by a bus while sleeping in your own bed!?

    Dreams are just freaky, and very surreal. Though the day before when my dream had me holding a young child in my arms running from room to room down a hallway of a large brick building looking for a restroom that I should really get up in reality and head towards my own bathroom. That child was a young version of nineteen year old down the hallway, who as a college student on summer break probably went to bed shortly before I had that dream.

  18. deee says

    Dreams are interesting.

    I get two kinds of dreams – first are vivid, intense ones that feel so real that it takes me a few minutes after I wake up to realize the things I dreamed didn’t actually happen in real life.

    And then there are the psychedelic, nonsensical, incoherently trippy ones that are like some kind of delirious fever dreams – where nothing makes sense, the dream alternates between 1st and 3rd person views, I’m constantly jumping in and out of the narrative, and the narrative changes constantly and goes to new places like my subsconscious is suffering from ADHD – always forgetting what it’s supposed to be doing when a new thought occurs to it.

    The first kind are often like stories, with a clear narrative and plot that is at least somewhat coherent – and these are also ones that are easier for me to remember from beginning to end, when I wake up. The second ones are kind of like mental noise, I have to consciously try to trace my way backwards as far back as I can in order to even remember them, since there’s no coherent narrative in them.

    This probably has something to do with neurotransmitters in some way. I know when I was on melatonin I used to get a lot more of the first type of dreams. But it gets a bit tiring at times – having such intense dreams can have you feeling a bit mentally exhausted in the mornings, especially if they’re a common occurence. Or that’s how I feel anyway, could just be that I tend to dwell on the dreams more when they feel more vivid.

    Oh, and know how those lucid dreaming guys always say you can’t use lightswitches in dreams, which makes it a good way to alert yourself that you’re dreaming? Debunked. I one night dreamed about pressing a lightswitch and it worked just fine.

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