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Obsessive Daydreams: When Dreams Interfere with Living a Normal Life

Dreams are an important part of our life. They help you relax, calm down, better understand your desires, and simply bring pleasure. It’s absolutely normal before bed to imagine yourself winning an Oscar, conquering Everest, or marrying Timothée Chalamet. Problems begin when dreams take up too much time and interfere with work, study and communication with loved ones. This condition is called obsessive daydreaming.

What Are Intrusive Dreams?

Obsessive daydreaming is an irresistible desire to escape from reality into dreams, which prevents you from living a normal life. This term was coined by Israeli psychologist Eli Somer in 2002. He summarized the experiences of 340 people prone to obsessive daydreaming, and also compared their fantasies with the dreams of ordinary people from a control group. It turned out that dreamers spend about half of their waking time in fantasies. Usually their dreams are very vivid, detailed and far from reality. Such people do not think about how they will go to the sea next summer or win enough money in the lottery to pay off their mortgage. Instead, they invent entire worlds with a large number of characters.

At the same time, obsessive dreams are not like hallucinations. A person easily distinguishes fantasies from reality and is aware that magical worlds exist only in his head. But it’s so tempting to indulge in daydreams that obsessive daydreaming becomes an addiction. In this way they are similar to other types of addictions. For example, gaming addiction or doom scrolling.

Signs of Obsessive Dreams

Experts from the American Sleep Association identify several signs of obsessive daydreaming.

Dreams are so bright and interesting that they look more attractive than ordinary life. A person may give up meeting with friends and once-favorite activities in order to be alone and dream.

It becomes difficult to focus on anything other than your fantasies. Therefore, problems arise in carrying out daily activities, including work or school tasks.

The dreamer becomes so deeply immersed in fantasy that he can whisper something or move his hands like his imaginary character. The second option is that the person looks detached, as if he has fallen into a trance. May make repetitive movements: fiddling with clothes, tapping a pen on a table, throwing an eraser. Dreams can last from a few minutes to several hours at a time.

Problems with sleep appear.

Why Do Intrusive Dreams Occur?

According to experts at Harvard Medical School, obsessive daydreaming is not a disease, but a possible symptom of certain mental problems:

anxiety;

depression;

obsessive-compulsive disorder;

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder;

past abuse or other traumatic experiences.

In other words, intrusive daydreaming may be a coping strategy. By plunging into dreams, a person runs away from a reality in which he is uncomfortable. Usually this happens consciously. But sometimes intrusive dreams provoke triggers. They can be certain words, sounds or settings familiar to fantasies. For example, a person who has been through school bullying may fall into saving fantasies when he hears his childhood nickname or finds himself in a classroom. In this case, obsessive dreams will not always be pleasant: a person may imagine vivid scenes of violence and reprisals against offenders.

How to Distinguish Ordinary Dreams from Obsessive Dreams

It’s not difficult: if dreams don’t interfere with work, study, communicate with friends and live real life, then everything is fine. If in doubt, you can take a questionnaire compiled by Eli Somer and his colleagues. It consists of 16 questions that help you assess what role dreams play in your life and whether they interfere with your focus and daily activities.

How to Help Yourself Overcome Obsessive Daydreaming

Experts at Harvard Medical School advise starting with your general physical and mental state: monitoring your sleep patterns and quality, eating a balanced diet, spending more time in the fresh air, and minimizing stress as much as possible.

Monitor your condition and try to understand what triggers provoke obsessive dreams in your case. Tell your loved ones about your problem: this way they will understand you better and be able to support you. Ask them to return you from your fantasies to reality if you are daydreaming during them. If these measures do not help, consult a psychotherapist.

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