your avatar   I. (33 year-old woman)

I have been working long hours for about 3 months now. I average about 5 hours of sleep every night (give or take a few) and have a hard time falling to sleep. My problem is this... on the weekends, when I try to catch up on my sleep I have horrible nightmares. They usually consist of demons, or someone chasing me. It has gotten so bad that I dread falling asleep. The nightmares usually begin before I fall completely asleep because I know I'm dreaming and try to wake myself. Sometimes I think I have awoken to find that I am still having a nightmare. When I finally do wake up and look at the clock, I see I've only been asleep for about 10 minutes.

What is causing these horrible nightmares and is there anything that I can do about them?


    Margaret Burr, MA, MFT


Thanks for writing.

First off, there's no way that you can "catch up" on sleep. Restorative sleep has its own specific sleep stages and the five hours of sleep you are getting are not enough for you, so you are suffering from sleep deprivation every day, all of the time. No amount of weekend sleeping will change that fact.

If you had a lifetime pattern of getting complete and reparative sleep from four or five hours of sleep a night, if you didn't feel tired during the day, and if you didn't need to try to get extra sleep on the weekends, then examining these nightmares might have some value, because your metabolism would be based on this minimal amount of sleep. Five hours of sleep would be "normal" for you, so the nightmares might reflect some intense conflict or threat in your awake life.

As it is now, though, these dreams are more a product of your awake life than they are of sleep. You even say that they occur while you are still slightly awake. These dreams seem to be an extension of the pace of your workweek as it intrudes on your weekend. That you are being chased in the dreams is interesting; you, yourself, are "chasing" after the sleep you lost all week.

Simply put, you are not sleeping. You are not getting the kind of sleep that your body needs to replenish itself every night to prepare itself for the day ahead. If you are not sleeping, you are not dreaming.

My recommendation is that you research sleep hygiene and develop a plan so that you can get close to eight hours of sleep each night with no appreciable extra sleep on the weekends and see if these nightmares continue. There is a vast amount of information about sleep needs - this science is advanced and well documented.

My guess is that the dreams will stop when you are actually getting the sleep your body requires, and when you have prioritized this critical need.


Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT

This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit:


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