Resource type: Article

Why did I have strange dreams and nightmares?

It’s very common for patients to have strange memories, dreams or hallucinations which can seem incredibly real and can be remembered in sometimes great detail for some time afterwards. We’re not entirely sure why this happens, but medical reasons include a combination of things like the sedative drugs used to keep you sleepy and comfortable, the severity of illness, any infection you may have had and disturbances in sleep pattern.

Patients themselves often have their own explanations for these strange memories, dreams or hallucinations that are just as valid or important.

Misinterpretations of reality

Sometimes the strange memories, dreams or hallucinations that people may have their roots in reality.Ian, for example, dreamt that he was cast adrift on a boat at sea (as is common).It is likely, however, that he mistook the rise and fall of a pressure relieving mattress for the movement of waves at sea.

"I don’t know how I got there, but I was out in a boat, a rowing boat, with a nurse! I’d obviously been dying on some water, because I was only getting these wee wipes.All of a sudden, I'm in a hospital!Where's the bloody boat? (laughs)" (Ian, 56)

Others commonly mistake the hustle and bustle of the Intensive Care Unit for other busy places, such as train stations, funfairs, village halls.

 

An escape from reality?

Spiritual meaning

Some patients have memories and dreams with a very spiritual meaning. Patients sometimes tell us, for example, about long conversations they had with loved ones who died a long time ago. A very small number of others have described what they call out of body experiences. Some patients find this upsetting, while others find that they are no longer afraid of dying.