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Sleep Characteristics That Could Indicate Illness

Written by Courteney

Posted on March 9, 2016 at 10:03 pm

Sometimes dreams are just dreams, but new and unusual dreams or nighttime habits can also be symptomatic of larger, potentially serious illnesses. Sleep characteristics that have shown some correlation with health issues include:

Stress Spilling Over Into Dreamland

Uncharacteristically vivid dreams can be an indication that you are highly stressed and that your stress is overflowing into your dreams. You may need to evaluate your stress level and talk to your doctor about ways to help bring it down. Routinely intense dreams have also been linked to bipolar disorder when combined with frequent several-day bouts of sleeplessness.

Dreams Can Signify Cognitive Decline

Frequent dreams of being attacked can be associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the elderly. Of course the occasional assault dream doesn’t mean you may be headed toward such illnesses, but frequent ones can be a precursor worth looking out for. In addition, many people in the early stages of cognitive decline will sleep-wander or show signs of violence or irritability during sleep.

Depression Can Alter Sleep Habits

Nearly 90% of people suffering from moderate-to-severe depression have insomnia. Depression can also cause chronic early waking and fitful sleep. Also, according to HelpGuide, “Laboratory studies have shown that people who are depressed spend less time in slow-wave sleep and may enter REM sleep more quickly at the beginning of the night.

REM Movement And Neurodegeneration

Kicking, punching or violently acting out dreams during the REM (deep) stage of the sleep cycle is often an indicator of Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases because healthy bodies are paralyzed during REM sleep.

Screaming The Screams Of Fever Dreams?

If you are having extremely bizarre dreams and waking disoriented and sweaty, your body may be trying to tell you that you’re sick. Untreated underlying and infections can cause these ‘fever dreams’ and freaky sleeps, so pay attention to your temperature and physical health if you’ve been having a few successive peculiar sleeps.

Sleep Disruptions Caused By Pregnancy

It is no wonder that moms-to-be often have fitful sleeps. From anxiety and excitement keeping them awake, to a mini foot in the ribs jerking them from slumber, or strange dreams causing uneasy sleeps. One factor that may explain pregnancy dreams and nightmares is that biological and hormonal changes in the body often cause increased and unusual dream activity. We all know there are no shortages of bodily changes happening during pregnancy! One study done on pregnant women showed a correlation between higher instances of nightmares and decreased odds of post partum depression. So maybe those prenatal nightmares aren’t such a bad thing!

Increased Nightmares Could Have You Clutching Your Chest

According to the American Grandparents Association, a 2003 Swedish study of elderly people study found that those experiencing increased nightmare activity had underlying cardiac problems. Their tests showed irregular heartbeats and chest pain corresponding with the nightmares. This was especially frequent during the REM stage of sleep when heartrate accelerates, sometimes causing them to wake with a gasp. That doesn’t mean everyone with a surplus of nightmares has heart problems. Nightmares could indicate other health issues or none at all, but in some cases it could be a sign of an arrhythmia or other cardiovascular condition. Similarly, studies have shown that taking beta blockers can also cause increase nightmares.

Diabetic Dreamers

People who suffer from Diabetes may experience some strange nighttime symptoms as well such as unpleasant or unsettling dreams (sometimes due to hypoglycemia), night sweats, or a frequent need to urination in the night. Severe diabetics may be frequently startled awake by nerve pain. Some of these symptoms can be remedied by medication adjustments.

Are You Frequently Suffocating in Dreams?

Studies have found that many people with sleep apnea (a condition where sleep breathing becomes shallow and uneven or stops) regularly experience dreams of drowning, suffocating or losing their breath. These are often correlated with actual stops or pauses in their breathing as they sleep. If you have frequent dreams of losing breath or wake gasping, it is important to check this out. The vast majority of sleep apnea patients experience symptom relief with forced air machines.

Check In If You Are Concerned

If you are experiencing any of these sleep aberrations – don’t panic! More than likely your sleep strangeness is just that, but it may be a good idea to mention your nighttime symptoms to your doctor, or one of our highly qualified DocChat physicians if you are concerned. It is always better to be safe than sorry!



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