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Dream Flashbacks - Anxiety Symptoms

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: November 1, 2020


dream flashbacks

Dream flashbacks, such as having dreams when awake or feeling like you are in a dream-like state, are common signs of anxiety disorder.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and dream flashbacks anxiety symptoms.

Common dream flashback anxiety symptom descriptions:

  • Have dream flashbacks when awake.
  • Dream-like state while awake.
  • Have dreams even though not sleeping, drifting off to sleep, or waking up.
  • Conscious yet have vivid memories of dreams you’ve had.
  • It feels like your conscious world is mixing with your dream world.
  • Drifting in and out of dreams while awake.
  • Awake yet part dreaming or dream-like.

Dream flashbacks can occur once in a while and not that often, occur off and on, or occur for hours and even days.

Dream flashbacks can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

They can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

The dream flashbacks anxiety symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and subsides the next.

This anxiety symptom can change from day to day and from moment to moment. It can also occur with other symptoms, or occur by itself as the only symptom.

Dream flashback and dream-like episodes while awake can seem more pronounced when undistracted, stressed, fatigued, or when your sleep has been disrupted.

This symptom often occurs during the aftereffects of stress or a stressful period.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

How anxiety causes dream flashbacks and dream-like states

Medical Advisory

Brain waves, also known as neural oscillations, are oscillating electrical voltages in the brain that measure just a few millionths of a volt. They are produced by synchronized electrical pulses from the neurons that communicate with each other.[1][2] It's theorized that these oscillations give us the ability to think, feel, and behave.

There are five main types of brain waves named for the frequency and functions they are associated with:

  • Gamma waves – 40 Hz and above – associated with higher mental activity such as perception, problem-solving, and consciousness.
  • Beta waves – 13 – 39 Hz – associated with active and busy thinking, active processing, active concentration, arousal, and cognition.
  • Alpha waves – 7  - 13 Hz – associated with calm and relaxation, yet alert.
  • Theta waves – 4 – 7 Hz – associated with deep meditation, deep relaxation, REM sleep.
  • Delta waves – less than 4 HZ – associated with deep dreamless sleep, loss of body awareness.

(Hz is the abbreviation for Hertz: a measurement of frequency based on 1 cycle per second. For instance, Delta waves are brain waves that occur at less than 4 cycles per second.)

When awake, brain waves fluctuate between the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma wave ranges, depending on what we are doing.

When deeply relaxed, brain waves drop into the Theta range.

When asleep, brain waves vary between Delta (deep sleep) and Theta (more active sleep, REM stage – when we dream).

When we are awake and active, brain waves typically stay above the Theta range. As such, we don’t experience dream-like states. However, fatigue reduces brain wave activity,[3] which can drop it down into the Theta range. 

Brain waves in the Theta range can give us dream flashbacks and feel like we are living in a dream-like state even though we are awake and active. Many people who are stressed, sleep-deprived, and fatigued experience dream flashbacks and dream-like states while awake.

Regarding anxiety, anxiety-caused hyperstimulation can stress the body so much that it becomes fatigued, which can also create symptoms of dream flashbacks and dream-like states of consciousness.

Even though this feeling can be disconcerting if you don’t know what’s causing it, it’s harmless and just an indication that the body needs sufficient rest.

As the body becomes sufficiently rested, this symptom subsides.

However, chronic hyperstimulation can also cause this symptom due to how hyperstimulation affects neural activity. In many cases, you can feel well-rested yet still experience these symptoms when the body is hyperstimulated.

I (Jim Folk) had many episodes of this symptom when I was struggling with anxiety disorder. Sometimes the episodes were fleeting, and other times they lingered for days.

Even so, this symptom is harmless. It’s just another symptom of hyperstimulation, stress, fatigue, or sleep disruption.

Other Factors:

Associated with anxiety, there are other factors that can cause and contribute to this symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.



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How to stop dream flashbacks anxiety symptoms

You can eliminate this symptom by getting sufficient rest, getting regular good sleep, reducing stress, and eliminating hyperstimulation.

You can also eliminate it by ingesting a stimulant, such as caffeine, or increasing your physical activity. We don’t recommend ingesting a stimulant if your body is already hyperstimulated.

You can check your level of hyperstimulation by using our free online instant results Hyperstimulation Test.

Therefore, this symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.

Even though it can feel like you are on the verge of a mental breakdown or losing your mind, you aren’t. Therefore, there is no reason for concern.

This symptom will subside when you address the problem causing it (sleep deprivation, fatigue, stress, and hyperstimulation).

If you are having difficulty containing your anxiousness about this symptom, I recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists to help you overcome your anxiety and worry issues.

NOTE: People with ADD and ADHD often experience this symptom, since they often have trouble reaching and staying in the upper brain wave ranges.

If you'd like additional help with your recovery, our Recovery Support area contains over 1000 pages of self-help information, much of which is not found elsewhere. It also has the most comprehensive anxiety symptoms section online today with all anxiety symptoms listed complete with in-depth descriptions, causes, and remedies. There's so much more!




The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Dream Flashbacks.


REFERENCES:

1. Bear, Connors, Paradiso (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the brain - Fourth Edition. Neuroscience: Past, Present, and Future (pp. 13). New York, NY: Wolters Kluwer

2. Abhang, Priyanka, et al. "Brain Waves." ScienceDirect, 2016, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/brain-waves

3. Craig, Ashley, et al. "Regional brain wave activity changes associated with fatigue." National Library of Medicine, Apr 2012, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22324302/