Psyche logo

Too Old for Nightmares

Another Way To Cope

By Stephanie Van OrmanPublished 22 days ago 4 min read
Too Old for Nightmares
Photo by Dezaldy Irfan on Unsplash

At my age, you're not supposed to have nightmares anymore. If you're over 35 and still having nightmares, new research suggests that it's a symptom of early-onset dementia.

Now, I know a thing or two about caring for dementia patients. My mother suffered from dementia at an early age. The worst thing about it was that she had horrifying hallucinations about cats being tortured and hung on fences. She would point out the window and ask me if I could help them. Sometimes there were bugs on the floor. There was a trap door in her room where people would come and go. She would get so disoriented in her own room, she wouldn't make it to the bathroom and wet herself as she hid under the piano in the middle of the night. None of it was real.

I'm too old to have nightmares. I'm in my forties.

I have nightmares.


When you're a child and you have a nightmare, your parents tell you to realize you're asleep, take control of the narrative, and wake yourself up. In the hazy light from your alarm clock, you will realize how silly your dream was. If it's still bothering you, you can create an ending to your dream that puts you at ease. Hopefully, you'll be able to calm yourself down and get yourself back to sleep.

As an adult, I'm not great at getting back to sleep promptly. If I have a nightmare that wakes me up at 2:30, I'm not back to sleep until 6:00, having lost most of the night.

There's no cure for dementia. If your brain falls apart, it falls apart, never to be put back together again. That's the sort of nightmare you don't wake up from.

Have you ever been in a dementia tank? I have. The doors are all locked to stop the patients from leaving and wandering around the neighborhood. Sometimes patients that leave will strip in public, not understanding where they are. In a dementia tank, the patients do not have many possessions of their own. Their rooms are bare. They're often in wheelchairs all day long. Worst of all, they're worried about things that aren't real. Sometimes they scream or cry for no reason.

Sounds like a prison, doesn't it?

The reason I'm writing this article is because I have decided to do something different with my nightmares. I decided that when I have a nightmare, I will not try to wake myself up anymore. I'm not to try to change the narrative to something that makes me more comfortable. Instead, I will observe my nightmare, whatever horror my brain throws at me, without getting upset. Instead of trying to escape what frightens me, I will accept everything that happens.

The other night I had a nightmare where I was in a snowy town. I was supposed to shop, but someone was chasing me with the intent to hurt me. I had three knives in my right hand to defend myself with. One of the blades was warped and I kept cutting the fingers on my left hand as I moved. I looked down and saw my blood red on the white snow. I told myself that was fine and took a blade handle in my left hand as well as my right, convincing myself that I was fine. I got on a train that was supposed to take me home, but I had a feeling I had to get off before I was at my stop (which could have led to a horrifying feeling that I might never get home). However, I got off the train and the train immediately crashed as it pulled away from the station. I held the knives and felt grateful.

I woke up in the morning, having slept well all night and I was not even a little bit scared or concerned when I woke up.

I have a few reasons why I think this method of coping may be better than the traditional advice for dealing with nightmares.

First, if you are giving your dream credence and letting your thoughts control your emotions, you are setting yourself up for failure when you can't wake up from your delusions. It may be better to accept them with serenity as something outside your control. It might stop you from being a screamer later on.

Secondly, if you control the narrative, you are creating your own world of delusions that blends with what you perceive as real danger. That goes along with the idea that you think you're in danger, therefore, you are. This strikes me as very dangerous in real life before you lose your marbles. This seems like it would leave you very vulnerable to anxiety attacks.

Thirdly, nothing is going to be different if you react. On a small scale, you'll lose sleep, which may be vital to tomorrow's performance. On a large scale, you could spend your final years afraid of everything.

This is still an experiment. However, so far, I think it is going well.

treatmentstraumapanic attacksadvice

About the Creator

Stephanie Van Orman

I write novels like I am part-printer, part book factory, and a little girl running away with a balloon. I'm here as an experiment and I'm unsure if this is a place where I can fit in. We'll see.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.