Why Does Depersonalization Affect Sleep and Dreams?
Depersonalization IS NOT directly linked to sleep and dreams. It can cause and be worsened by sleep deprivation, but so do all anxiety conditions. Because of the feelings of 'dreaming but I'm awake' and general exhaustion due to anxiety, it can feel like Depersonalization and sleep are somehow linked. They can affect each other, but DPDR is not a sleep-related condition.
As everyone who develops Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder knows, the condition can make normal everyday things seem really difficult. For me, it was going to the cinema, reading, travelling.
All the things I used to love to do now seemed like terrifying experiences.
Depersonalization and Sleep
But what seemed particularly cruel was that DPDR also affected my sleep patterns, and even my dreams.
After a long day of feeling depersonalized, I would drift off to sleep only to have full-on nightmares in which I was experiencing panic attacks and DPDR.
The first time this happened, I remember waking up and being distraught. The idea that there was no escape from these feelings - even in sleep! - was so terrifying.
At the time I was convinced that Depersonalization / Derealization and sleep were closely linked. I thought that it was connected to sleep deprivation, causing me to feel like I was dreaming while I was awake.
After much online research, I saw that others were having the same experience.
When you consider that:
1. DPDR Can Cause Nightmares
2. You Can Experience DPDR In Your Dreams / Nightmares
3. Lack Of Sleep Can Make DPDR Worse
4. DPDR Can Feel Like You’re Dreaming When You’re Awake
5. DPDR Can Feel Worse In The Mornings
...it seems pretty certain that DPDR must be connected to sleep. Right?
Actually, no. It’s an interesting theory but it’s overcomplicating something that’s very simple.
Let’s go through each of these complaints and see why DPDR is NOT directly connected to sleep!
1.DPDR Can Cause Nightmares
This is true, but but every type of stress and anxiety can cause nightmares.
Work stress, marital issues, exams coming up -- they can all cause bad dreams. Why should Depersonalization be any different?
Sure, it can be very distressing but that doesn’t make it different from any other nightmare. When you spend all day thinking about DPDR, of course you’re going to have dreams about it.
And just like any other nightmare, they will stop when the associated waking stress is stopped.
2.You Can Experience DPDR In Your Dreams / Nightmares
Yes, but again -- this is only occurring because your dreams / nightmares tend to rerun whatever you’re obsessing about and stressing about. In the same way that if you’re worried about an upcoming exam, you’ll keep dreaming that you’re sitting in the exam hall.
It’s not pleasant but it’s perfectly natural and it can’t harm you. Believe it or not, your mind is trying to work out the problem of your anxiety and DPDR!
3. Lack of Sleep Can Make Depersonalization Worse
This is very true, but it’s not a direct link. All types of anxiety and stress are worsened when you’re tired or have sleep deprivation. Yours just happens to be DPDR.
When you’re tired or haven’t been sleeping properly, you feel more anxious. That's what happens to everyone with sleep deprivation.
If you had OCD, it would be worse with lack of sleep. Same goes for social anxiety, claustrophobia, Depersonalization etc.
Lack of sleep can make them worse, but can lack of sleep cause Depersonalization / Derealization disorder? It's very unlikely. DPDR is almost always triggered by trauma and stress, not exhaustion alone.
4. DPDR Can Feel Like You’re Dreaming When You’re Awake
The feeling of dreaming while you’re awake is incredibly common in DPDR and is your brain's reaction to perceived trauma ( panic attack / grief / bad drug experience etc). It's scary but it's perfectly natural.
It’s designed to be a temporary defensive measure, but sometimes it can persist and become Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder. It definitely feels weird but in reality it has nothing to do with actually being asleep or dreaming.
This, combined with the fact that the anxiety and DPDR can make you genuinely tired too, makes for a very strange and exhausting experience!
I really wish I had known this when I first developed Depersonalization / Derealization, as I tried my best to ‘wake up’ by drinking lots of coffee, listening to heavy music -- things that definitely didn't help!
5. DPDR Can Feel Worse In The Morning
Again, feeling worse in the morning is typical of almost all anxiety conditions. People usually tend to feel more anxious in the mornings, for a variety of reasons.
It can be tough to get out of bed, face going to work etc. So when your body associates feelings of DPDR with anxiety, you'll feel more DPDR in the mornings.
But that doesn't mean that mornings = Depersonalization! And most importantly -- the fact that DPDR tends to ease off during the afternoon and evening is a very positive thing.
Why? Because you know that the condition is variable, it's caused and eased by different factors -- and can be stopped altogether.
So there you have it! Because of the symptoms, people often think that DPDR is closely related to sleeping and dreaming.
But when you think about it, all anxiety-spectrum conditions have similar effects. Yes, DPDR might disrupt your sleep and cause nightmares -- but so do all anxiety-based conditions.
There's nothing special about Depersonalization / Derealization in that sense. It's just another condition caused by anxiety.
And just like with any other condition, your sleep and dreaming will get back to normal as you recover.