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Professional News
Crisis Dreams Reflect Individual Concerns
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 23 page 10-10

In conversations with sleep specialists and notes to online dream e-mail lists, many Americans began reporting nightmares involving collapsing buildings, plane crashes, avalanches, and other scenes of destruction and death soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"It’s perfectly normal for sleep and dreams to be disrupted after a traumatic event. There’s nothing pathological about this," said Ernest Hartmann, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the sleep disorders center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Mass.

Hartmann, whose most recent book is Dreams and Nightmares: The Origin and Meaning of Dreams (Perseus Book Group, 2000), is soliciting dreams from journal keepers who were logging dreams before, on, and after September 11. A long-time investigator of individual dream series, he’s planning to study systematically the impact of trauma on dreams.

"We have all been traumatized," Hartmann said, "but it takes a personal problem to produce specific imagery in dreams." As one example, he cites a middle-aged man who did not recall dreaming of the September 11 events until three weeks later. A painful discussion with his girlfriend prompted this man to conclude that their relationship was falling apart. That night he dreamed he was in a falling building.

The anthrax threat is more insidious, Hartmann said, and may make it more likely that people will have disturbing dreams about their own anxieties.

Hartmann is seeking journal reports of the last 10 dreams before and first 10 dreams after September 11. He asks participants not to select particular dreams, omit dreams, or alter dreams in any way except to change people’s names if they wish. The dreams may be sent via e-mail to EHDream@aol.com.

Advice for patients on coping with poor sleep and disturbing dreams may be found at the National Sleep Foundation’s Web site at www.sleepfoundation.org/whatsnew/crisis.html.

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