We talked to people in older age about sleep and dreaming. They talked about how their dreams have changed as they got older, what happens in their dreams, and nightmares.
How dreams change in older age
Several people had noticed a change in the amount or frequency of their dreams. Most said they dream a lot more now, or were actually more aware of dreaming now than they used to be. A few people said they dream when dozing in the early hours of the morning, whereas others, like Dessie, said that she dreams shortly after going to sleep, when her husband wakes her coming to bed.
Mike not only remembers dreaming frequently when he was a child, but still remembers what he…
What people dream about
Many people said they dream about people, places or experiences that they are familiar with. Some dream of people who have died, and they often find comfort in that. Sometimes their dreams contained people from earlier periods in their lives, whom they barely knew, and they couldn’t think of an explanation for that.
Robert believes the stress from his recent bereavement has caused him to have dreams about the…
Some people noticed there was a link between what they were thinking about or doing before going to bed and what they dreamt. Roy was very interested in dreams and kept a record of his dreams for a number of years. He has noticed that many of his dreams take place in the countryside and contain images of valleys and ravines. He realises this is probably because he always used to like taking long walks in this type of countryside. He also said he was annoyed to find that he kept dreaming after he retired.
Sue B. is aware that her dreams very often reflect what she was doing before she went to bed.
If William has been mentally active, such as reading a challenging book, he will dream a lot more.
A few people that we spoke to think that they’re dreaming more now because they’re waking up more in the night. They believe that they wake up in the middle of a dream. A few people said they would often go back into the same dream, or one that had only slightly changed. Jacqui said she can affect what happens in her dreams. If she wakes up during a nice dream, she can go back to sleep and carry on with it, but if it is an unpleasant dream, she tells herself to stop dreaming it.
If William wakes up because of pain or needing to go to the toilet, he often slips back into the…
Flashbacks and nightmares
People told us they sometimes experienced flashbacks to disturbing events during their dreams, which often woke them up. Most often the flashbacks took place immediately following the disturbing event, such as after a bereavement, but occasionally they happened much later.
After Dessies husband died, she had frequent dreams which contained flashbacks to what had…
Several of the people we spoke to told us that they have nightmares from time to time. Some people had suffered nightmares or bad dreams for a period of time. They think this may be linked to times when they were feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Occasionally these nightmares were recurring ones, which people found particularly distressing.
Daniel, who had lots of recurring nightmares when he was younger, remembers a hissing sound in…
Memories of the war often caused vivid dreams for those old enough to remember. Even those who were very young during the war found some of the noises, sights and smells still lingered with them years later.
Those who have memories of the war spoke about how they used to dream about these memories when they were younger, and are finding that these memories often surface in their dreams now. John remembers seeing a German plane landing on an Anderson Shelter in the war, killing everyone, and the dreams he had then continued for some years, and sometimes resurface now.
Stress of all kinds was often thought to be the reason for bad dreams or nightmares, whether it was about past events, family or work, and the stress often played out in dreams where people were stopped in doing things or looking for things that they couldn’t find. Having anxious dreams led to people waking up feeling anxious.