On Nightmares and Creativity

We all get nightmares.  Male and female, young and old, nightmares are one way our brains handle stress.  And each day brings its own stressors, you know?

For some, nightmares are vivid and terrifying, waking up the sleeper and disrupting not only their sleep, but also the next day.

The correlation between nightmare frequency and day- time tiredness reflects the negative effects nightmares exert on the next day. – Nightmare Frequency in Patients with Primary Insomnia, IJODR, 2,2, 2009

This would explain my appreciation for a good nap, I daresay. I do like to nap.

I had nightmares obliterating my rest from the time I was eight years old.  Horrific nightmares. Nightmares that a little girl from a stable, happy home who mainly watched The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie while she read The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit shouldn’t have been having.  Graphic horrors involving mass murder and other such scenarios invaded my sleep on a regular basis.  When I was eight and played nice with my Barbies®.

Insomnia came, too. I think my body forgot how to sleep all night, after a while.

I discovered, back at the end of 1997 when I first began to write, that the process of writing had an unexpected benefit: no more nightmares.

Insomnia? Well, that is still an issue, even now (unless we get a long run of freezing nights!), but the nightmares went away when I wrote.  So over the past fifteen years, I have tried to keep pretty busy on the writing front.

Recently, having finished my draft of Éire’s Viking, I took a break from writing. A few days off to catch up on books I wanted to read but had set aside in my mad rush to finish the manuscript. The opportunity to catch up with TV series I hadn’t seen (I love catching episodes online and am enjoying Downton Abbey on PBS.org enormously.) The break was. . .odd. I am researching for other books and all, but I didn’t create for a few days.

I had forgotten about the nightmares. How could I have done so?  I don’t know.

I spent a few rather uncomfortable nights, let me tell you.  But then I remembered a story I wanted to write for a friend’s birthday, and I got that done.  I haven’t created anything new today, so I’m writing here (I wonder if that’ll count to my psyche?) and hope that the terrors of excess neurons can bleed harmlessly into ether.

If you’re reading, I invite you to share with me your experiences with nightmares and/or insomnia. Or what about your need to create? Painting? Music?  Words?  Crafts? Maybe I should find a new outlet for those days when I am not “writing” as such.

I welcome your comments. 🙂


  1. Lissa Bryan · February 5, 2013

    The drawback of having a vivid imagination is horrific nightmares.

    It was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that helped me with my nightmares. During one terrible dream where I was being chased by a monster so terrifying I knew I’d go mad if I looked over my shoulder and saw it, I suddenly realized I could do all of those wicked-cool martial arts moves that Buffy can in the show. It was an amazing moment; I still remember how it felt, that rush of exhilaration and liberation. I whirled around and beat the ever-living snot out of that monster.

    Since that night, I’ve somehow retained the knowledge in my dreams that I can fight like a Slayer. It hasn’t stopped me from having nightmares, but I have a vague sense of power and control in them that makes them less terrifying.

    • Sandi · February 5, 2013

      That is so awesome. 🙂 My mom gave me a dream weapon I could use to fight the monsters when I was a kid. I love that you knew how to fight like a Slayer! That’s very hot. 🙂

  2. Victoria Elizabeth Barnes · February 5, 2013

    I’ve always, as long as I can remember had vivid/horrifying/terrifying dreams where an animal/wolf/creature is chasing me. And one particular one where I am in the deep end of the inside pool at the Y, and a massive shark comes out of the drain (I don’t go in the deep end of any pool, even though lots of people have assured me it’s not physically possible for a giant sea creature to find its way into the city via underground tunnels… I KNOW it’s possible.)

    One time I dreamed I opened the basement door to do laundry, and there was a huge rabid kangaroo at the bottom of the step… it started bounding up (as kangaroos do) to… eat me? I guess? I mean, I can’t say for sure why he was there…

    I really love animals, so I’m not sure why they’re the subjects of my sleeping imagination.

    • Sandi · February 5, 2013

      Ah, Victoria, I love your brain.

      Being chased can be terrifying! How does your Dream Self cope with that?

      Sharks can show up ANYwhere. Yep.

      And you win. I have never heard of anyone dreaming of a rabid kangaroo. Wow. Another chasing dream.

      Of course I had to look this up. Research is my life, right? So I found this on the Huffington Post (not the source of all knowledge and wisdom, but it’s usually got decent sources): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/13/dreams-about-being-chased_n_891410.html

      On Kangaroos: To see a kangaroo in your dream refers to maternal and paternal protection. You may be expressing your nurturing and mothering nature. Perhaps, you are being too overly protective. Alternatively, a kangaroo symbolizes aggression. If the kangaroo is hopping, then the dream is analogous to how you jump from one thing to another. You lack the ability to stick to one thing.

      To dream that a kangaroo attacks you indicates that your reputation is being called into question. (http://www.dreammoods.com/dreamdictionary/k.htm)

      Unless you meant this kind of rabid kangaroo: http://www.myspace.com/rabidkangaroo

      • Victoria Elizabeth Barnes · February 6, 2013

        I deal with it by running… always. Which makes perfect sense after reading the huffpost article (source of all scientific research)… I’m the queen of avoidance.

        The kangaroo? Hopping from one thing to another? Yep. Perhaps I could even say I hop rabidly from one to another…

        p.s.- I didn’t look at the link to a rabid kangaroo. Seriously. I am the most susceptible person to monsters EVER.

    • Sandi · February 6, 2013

      Like I would do that to you. 🙂 The rabid kangaroo I linked is a band with a myspace page. (Really? Do people do that still or is it a holdover? I haven’t a CLUE.)

      Running works. And you don’t avoid minutiae involved with DIY remodeling, so I salute you. 🙂

  3. Jack Flacco · February 6, 2013

    I recently had a nightmare, but I don’t remember it 😦 I don’t know what it is. I never remember my dreams or nightmares. All I remember is I wake up in a cold sweat and fall back asleep right away. Oh, I do remember a knife in one of my nightmares. But…that’s about it. I wish I were of more help.

    I know of a friend who suffered from insomnia, had visited a chiropractor and is now sleeping like a baby (I think I mentioned them…) They’re doing well now, eating better, sleeping better…they color in their face is there. I’ll ask them if they had a nightmare they can remember so I can write it here sometime!

    • Sandi · February 6, 2013

      Hey! Well, thank you for chiming in. 🙂 Lovely to be able to go right back to sleep after a nightmare. I’m pleased for you.

      And I’m so glad your friend has found a way out of InsomniaLand. Sounds like he’s really turned around! 🙂

  4. Sydney Logan (@SydneyALogan) · February 6, 2013

    I’ve had some scary dreams, but for the most part, my dreams are pleasant. Unfortunately, I do suffer from insomnia from time to time, and it’s in direct correlation with how stressful my life (or my mind) is at the moment. If I can manage my stress, I can usually manage my sleep. But real life is stressful, and sometimes, there’s no avoiding it. When I really get myself into trouble is when I start worrying about sleeping, and that is a very bad habit of mine that does nothing but worsen the cycle. “What if I don’t sleep? If I don’t sleep, I won’t be able to drive, or work, or . . . ” and it becomes a cycle of worry that does nothing but keep me awake. I sleep so much better when I exercise, and I know this, so you’d think I’d make time to do that each day. Maybe that can be my spring resolution. 🙂

    • Sandi · February 7, 2013

      Ah, yeah. Keeping the mind quiet can be very helpful if you have stress-induced insomnia.
      Exercise. You and me both! 🙂

  5. Sarah Aisling · February 17, 2013

    Oh, this is a great post! I never put together the bad dreams with not creating, but I recently had a span of several days when I couldn’t find time to write. Guess what I had? Bad dreams. Some pretty vivid ones, too. Thanks for this info, Sandi. It might help me next time to realize what it’s from.

    I have semi-developed the ability to realize I’m dreaming and wake myself up from bad dreams. Unfortunately, I haven’t been lucid enough to turn around and kick a bad guy’s butt. 🙂

    • Sandi · February 17, 2013

      Hello, Sarah!

      I am a firm recommender of creative expression to combat nightmares. It certainly can’t hurt to try it, anyway! I better get to writing today. 😉

      I hope you have the opportunity to kick Villainous Butt in your next bad dream!

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