Photo by Kiwihug, courtesy of Unsplash

Job loss worries, racial reckoning, a pandemic, and grief over so many things at once overwhelms us. Even the inability to simply get your hair done or bask in the comfort of a hug are making it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

It’s understandable. Your dreams may be technicolor craziness that defy logic or gravity. Dreams or nightmares can wake you up feeling disoriented, causing you to shake your head as you ask, “What was THAT about?!”

Some of us are even experiencing night terrors that stalk our sleep over and over again. But if you pay attention, you can solve the riddle of your nightmares. Since you are producing your own dream world podcast, listen closely to the message. It could be packed with information to help you cope with real-life fears you face in a fractious, waking world.

I had a recurring nightmare that regularly terrorized my sleep from the age of 5 or 6 until I was in my late Twenties. There were variations on a similar theme but I always woke up with my body drenched in sweat, my breathing rapid and my heart pumping as fast as a train at full speed.

My nightmare always had me crouching in fear in some small, cramped space. It might be under a school desk or seeking a safe space in an empty office building, always at night. I might be hiding in a closet or cooped up in some creepy attic. Years later, even my then 9 year-old daughter would be part of my nightmare scenarios. I would always have my arm around her, holding her close.

Someone was stalking me. I could never see a face. But, I could always hear the slow, deliberate walk echoing off the tile or wood floor. They were looking for me all over the house, throughout the office building or in the backyard. I hyperventilated as the searcher got closer to me. I was always boxed in, no way out.

As the person drew closer and closer, I felt myself desperately looking for an exit — any way out. Just as I was about to scream, I would feel a glimmer of hope. There was always a nook or cranny that I hadn’t noticed before where I could squeeze through. Once I got out of whatever dire situation was confronting me, I started running to freedom. Then, I woke up, relieved.

Even though the villain never actually caught me in any of the nightmares, I still had to deal with the sheer terror of these scenarios for years. But one day, I figured it out.

I got interested in the study of dreams, especially recurring ones. According to Psychology Today, nightmares are “threat rehearsals” that help us work out things we fear in our waking lives. Having occasional nightmares is pretty common. But recurrent nightmares may be a symptom of a type of mental disorder called Nightmare Disorder.

Although, it’s normal for at least half of the adult population to experience nightmares, between two and eight percent suffer from Nightmare Disorders. Nightmares occur during the latter part of the night when deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep takes over just before you wake up.

This disorder has a variety of causes including PTSD, trauma, anxiety, grief or any other kind of distress, real or imagined. Nightmare Disorder tends to affect more girls and women than boys and men. Left untreated or misdiagnosed, this disorder can turn into a real psychosis needing strong medications or even, hospitalization.

If you’re suffering from night terrors, whether real or imagined, here are things you can do to have a better night’s sleep:

  • Keep a regular sleep routine.
  • Cut back on alcohol and caffeine right before you turn in.
  • Lower the temperature of your room.
  • Exercise every day, just not right before bedtime.
  • Don’t sleep in frequently.
  • Reach out to your health insurer or local community resources for low-cost psychological or behavioral help, if you need it.

Given that Black people are disproportionately impacted by all of the chaos pummeling us right now, it’s no surprise that our sleep patterns may be seriously disturbed. We are, in fact, a traumatized people. Snatched from our Motherland, Africa, we worked from dawn to dusk in an unforgiving country. I see this as a trauma that continues to dog our Collective Unconscious. America has been our national recurrent nightmare since 1619.

So, you may ask, what did I learn from my nightmare? It was my epiphany moment. I realized that no matter what obstacles I might face, I could always figure out a solution. That’s what my nightmare was about. During my night terror, I panicked because I thought there was no escape. But, each and every time, I wiggled my way out. So, I learned that I had the intelligence, perseverance, wit and heart to solve my own problems — even when the answer didn’t seem to exist.

Once I figured this out, I stopped having those nightmares. I began to see them as a gift from God. They helped me learn how to survive in a hostile world. Even today, as I self-quarantine and try to figure out how to thrive like a flower in the desert, I am grateful for my nightmares.

But the country’s biggest nightmare is Donald J. Trump. Vote in November.

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