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Depression and Dreams: How Mental Health Affects Your Dreams

Depression and Dreams: How Mental Health Affects Your Dreams

Depression and Dreams: How Mental Health Affects Your Dreams

From the outlandish claims of Sigmund Freud to modern-day dream interpretation, dreams have long been a mystery to many.

Some people tend to have scarier dreams. Others have dreams that simply don’t make sense. Still, other people have lucid dreams that they can control. Everybody is unique, but is there a connection between your dreams and your mental health?

The Relationship Between Dreams and Mental Health

As a Boca mental illness treatment center, we know that the brain is a fascinating and complex structure that may never be fully understood. When we fall asleep at night, our brains remain active and we dream.

Some people believe that dreams are our subconscious trying to tell us something; other scientists believe that dreams are a compilation of random signals from the brain that are often tied to our experiences from earlier in the day. Not only are people with mental health disorders often preoccupied with their disorders during the day, but these disorders may sometimes lead to changes in the brain itself. Both may affect the way we dream in various ways. While research on dreams and mental illness is scary, the relationship does appear to be complicated and it changes based on the specific mental health disorder.

Depression & Dreams

Depression isn’t just troubling emotions of sadness or loneliness; often, depression is accompanied by changes in brain structure and chemistry as well. Because there are some important differences between depressed brains and normal brains, these changes may explain why someone with depression will have a different experience with dreams than someone without.

Do Depressed People Dream More?

Yes, depressed people tend to dream more. In fact, one study found that people who are depressed can dream up to three times more than people who are not depressed.1 Why is this? Dreams can help us regulate our emotions and process negative ones, and because depressed people often struggle with both, dreaming more frequently may be a way to deal with these negative emotions.

Depression, Poor Sleep, & Fatigue

Although dreaming more sounds pleasant enough, depression dreams don’t actually help depressed people feel restored. Although depressed people are dreaming more frequently, they are often left feeling more tired as well. People who are depressed may have a harder time falling asleep, but they enter REM sleep, the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs, earlier and stay in this stage longer. REM sleep sees brain waves that are almost as active as when someone is awake and also includes an increased heart rate and more heavy breathing. Because depressed people dream more frequently, it is no wonder that a common symptom of depression is fatigue.

Dream Recall & Depression

Just because you dream doesn’t mean you will be able to recall it. If you are struggling with depression and dreams are something you never remember, you are also not alone. Depressed people may dream more than the average person, but they are also less likely to remember those dreams.2 Antidepressants can be the source of this problem, but for people who have yet to get treatment for depression, this can still occur.

Depression & Nightmares

Along with changing sleep patterns, depression and dreams are also connected by the unique context of the dream. Depression causes bad dreams for many people.3 One study found that 28.4% of participants with severe depression reported frequent nightmares and that depression was one of the strongest indicators of frequent nightmares.4 These depression nightmares can range from just plain scary to downright weird.

Anxiety & Dreams

Dreams and mental illness are connected in different ways. Just like depression and dreams have a unique relationship, so do anxiety and dreams. Anxiety in America is common and many people struggle with anxiety disorders. Just as anxiety can severely impact a person’s waking life, anxiety can impact dreams and sleep as well.

Anxiety & Insomnia

Many people with different types of anxiety disorders complain of insomnia. People with panic disorders generally take longer to fall asleep and spend more time awake. Those with generalized anxiety disorders also suffer from disrupted sleep and struggle to fall asleep in the first place.5

Because the research is so unclear, the relationship between anxiety and sleep may be more complicated than we currently realize.

Anxiety & Bad Dreams

Just like people with depression tend to have nightmares, people with anxiety disorders also often suffer from bad dreams. Studies have shown that symptoms of anxiety are related to negative dream affect compared to people with peace of mind who experience positive dream affect.6 In some cases, frequent nightmares can be a warning of an anxiety disorder like PTSD or generalized anxiety disorder. Interestingly, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to drastically decrease the number of bad dreams from anxiety.7

Although there are some important connections between anxiety and dreams, the relationship is complicated, and more research needs to be done to get a clearer picture on the subject.

Drugs, Dreams & Mental Illness

How these mental health disorders impact sleep may also be affected by other factors. Anxiety, depression, and dreams all have to do with the brain, and substance abuse can also lead to changes in how the brain works and its structure. For these reasons, alcohol use and drug abuse may also be contributing factors to these sleep disturbances.

Because many people who are depressed or struggling with anxiety will turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with these negative emotions, they may actually be making their sleep problems worse and impacting their dreams in strange ways. It is important that these people receive dual diagnosis treatment to work on fixing both problems.

Your dreams may be trying to tell you something. If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, there is hope. At Banyan Mental Health, we want to help.

Call us today at 888-280-4763 so that you can finally wake up from this nightmare and move forward.


  1. - Depression and dreaming
  2. Healthline - How Much Deep, Light, and REM Sleep Do You Need?
  3. Netflix - The Mind Explained
  4. American Academy of Sleep Medicine - Depression and insomnia are strongest risk factors for frequent nightmares
  5. NIH- Sleep disturbance in anxiety disorders
  6. NCBI- Peace of mind and anxiety in the waking state are related to the affective content of dreams
  7. NCBI- Bad Dream Frequency in Older Adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Prevalence, Correlates, and Effect of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment for Anxiety

Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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