Anxiety: Sweet, Elusive Sleep
August 1, 2004
By Karen Springen, Newsweek

You toss, you turn, you worry. What happens when insomnia disrupts your night—and your dreams.

Aug. 9 issue - Earlier this summer, Mike Trevino, 29, slept nine hours in nine days in his quest to win a 3,000-mile, cross-country bike race. For the first 38 hours and 646 miles, he skipped sleep entirely. Later he napped—with no dreams he can remember—for no more than 90 minutes a night. Soon he began to imagine that his support crew was part of a bomb plot. "It was almost like riding in a movie. I thought it was a complex dream, even though I was conscious," says Trevino, who finished second.

Trevino's case may be extreme, but it raises important questions: If we don't sleep (or sleep enough), what happens to our dreams? And if we don't dreacase may be extreme, but it raises important questions: If we don't sleep (or sleep enough), what happens to our dreams? And if we don't dream, what happens to us? These are not purely academic or existential questions. Nearly 40 percent of Americans report getting fewer than seven hours sleep on weekdays and nearly 60 percent say they experience some kind of insomnia at least several nights r for Sleep Research. "It's certainly essential for optimum brain function."

For those of us who are stressed, anxious and working too hard, insomnia only makes things worse. When our worries wake us in the middle of a REM cycle, issues that might have been resolved through dreams are left hanging. Dreams tend to get more positive as the night wears on, and waking up too soon interrupts this process. "People who are sleep deprived are often irritable," says Rosalind Cartwright, chairman of psychology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "They haven't worked through the bad feelings."