Lesson 1 of0
In Progress

-Monsters in the Closet

Mission22 October 25, 2021

Key takeaway:

What happens during waking hours may directly impact your sleep. Prioritizing your activity, work-life, nutrition plan, and family life while you’re awake can help you sleep in peace.


Do you stay up late to avoid going to sleep? Does the thought of closing your eyes make you uncomfortable? Disruptive sleep episodes are a real problem for many, leading to repetitive nighttime awakenings and making it difficult to get back to sleep. The most common being nightmares and night terrors.

Nightmares are defined as coherent and vividly realistic dreams that become increasingly disturbing as they progress and result in waking from sleep. Nightmares commonly involve impending danger or distressing themes and provoke emotions such as fear, embarrassment, or anxiety upon waking. Whereas night terrors are episodes of screaming and agitated movements such as flailing or thrashing, accompanied by intense fear. They typically last between seconds and a few minutes and begin whilst still asleep. Individuals who experience night terrors frequently will often have trouble falling asleep and will awaken easily, repeatedly waking up throughout the night resulting in disrupted, non-refreshing sleep.

According to Psychiatrist Dr. Mark Stracks, approximately 96% of people with PTS experience terrifying nightmares that are so vivid that they seem real.

Nightmares and terrors are so incredibly disruptive to daily functioning because, in the words of scientist and sleep expert Professor Matthew Walker, “Dreaming is a way in which we understand the world in which we live.” The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of “nightmare” in English to around 1300 CE. It’s defined as “a female spirit or monster supposed to settle on and produce a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal.”

Poor dreaming is spiritually suffocating.

Dreaming is an intricate process happening while we sleep that helps us cope better the next day. Dreams are critical to regulating our emotions. They occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, usually later in our sleep cycle.

Most of us are familiar with adrenaline, one of the hormones that prepare the body for fight or flight. Adrenaline is also known by another name, epinephrine. They are the same molecule. Epinephrine doesn’t just create a desire to move and be alert, it is also the chemical signature for fear and anxiety.

All of our thoughts have an emotional charge to them. The only time within a 24-hour period when this emotional charge is nullified (dormant) is during sleep, more specifically, during the cycle of REM sleep (dream sleep). During REM sleep, where we are hallucinating and having these outrageous experiences in our minds, the chemical that is associated with panic, fear, and anxiety is not available to us.

This is important because it allows us to experience things, both by replaying situations that did happen and elaborating on things that didn’t happen, without fear and anxiety.

That means we can adjust our emotional relationship to challenging things that happen to us while we are awake, such as social anxiety, being concerned about an upcoming event, or being overworked.

According to Professor Walker, dream sleep allows the brain to take this highly charged emotional memory and strip away its bitter edges, so you’ll come back the next day with much less charge around that emotion. By soothing that memory through dream sleep, you begin to strip away the memory of the emotion. This process allows us to come back the next day with a memory of an emotional event that is no longer emotional itself.

“Memory consolidation and easing of emotional charges occurs only when we are able to tap into a dream state, a state of deep rest that is often denied when we have habituated a constant “watchtower” state during the dark hours of the night.” – Matthew Walker

Consider the following scenario. You open your computer and create a new document, and for our purposes here, consider this document a new memory. You then hit the save button.110,677 Save Button Stock Photos and Images - 123RF

Now, imagine that when you double-click this document the next day to open it you aren’t able to edit it. It is exactly as you left it the day before, unchanged and unchangeable! Many of us are of the belief that our memories operate in a similar manner. Once the save button on a new memory has been hit, it can no longer be changed; it’s been converted to a protected PDF. Fortunately, this is not the case. 

We do actually have the ability to edit our memories and spin them in a more favorable way, to consolidate and integrate them so they are not fragmented and disrupting.

So, when you recall a memory, one that you have hit the save button on, know that it is not permanent, it’s modifiable; you can change it and edit it. Then you can re-consolidate it, re-save it, and now it is edited. This PDF may contain a lot of red letters–indicating a negative emotional charge–which we think are unchangeable, but that’s not the case. Here’s why…

One explanation, according to Walker, is that this could be related to the fact that for those who suffer from PTS, levels of noradrenaline have been shown to be much higher than average. When levels of noradrenaline are very high, the brain is unable to do this elegant trick of stripping the emotion from the memory during REM sleep. Each time you arrive at a dream state during sleep, your brain will try this ‘trick’ but unfortunately, it will fail again. This cycle repeats itself multiple times, night after night, and eventually becomes the repetitive nightmares of PTS, leading to a sense of uneasiness associated with sleep.


Dreaming is an important part of our sleep cycles and plays a critical role in our ability to edit our memories and regulate our emotions. We are not tied to the stories we’ve formed about what the past means for us today. During REM sleep, we pull a memory forward and manipulate it. When we reinstall the memory, it’s restored with whatever new context we give it. So, if you revisit these memories, you can make it worse or you can make it better. 

Remember our hero archetypes from module one of the course. Restoring ourselves from trauma is practicing rewriting our stories. In a very literal sense, if we can’t learn to dream again, we lose our vision for what could be, for how we could continue to turn our potentials into reality. We need quality sleep at night to allow us to write new stories during the day.

According to Walker, dreaming is not simply you rewinding the video of the day and playing it back over again. Only a small percentage of your dreaming life is an actual replay of anything you’ve experienced during your day. However, if there’s a common thread that runs from your waking hours to your sleeping hours, it is emotional themes and concerns.

How do we take control of our daily thoughts and emotions? In a word, it comes back to awareness. As we have covered earlier, if you aren’t sleeping great, taking control of these emotions while ruminating or catastrophizing may prove challenging. Just being aware that these thought processes are happening is a very powerful tool. You may be surprised by how often it occurs!

Once an awareness practice is started, how do we take the edge off the emotions we get from our thoughts?

Much of our ability to do so is tied to the hormone serotonin. Prolonged or intense stress, such as that experienced during a trauma, chronic stress, or PTS, is associated with a lower level of serotonin, which enables our brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. The process helps regulate parts of the brain that deal with fear and worry. Serotonin is important for stabilizing mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness and directly affects our sleeping, eating, and digestion. Exposure to the early morning sun will kick-start serotonin production.

The idea here is that the priority should be how you live when you are awake so you can be at peace when you sleep.

Learning to relax during the day can make it easier to relax at night. Here are some other strategies for you to consider: 

  • Yoga Nidra –  You can tell I’m a fan as this is the second time I’ve mentioned this practice. This is a process where you gradually tense and relax different groups of muscles all over your body to reduce stress and tension. This is ideal to do just before you drift off to sleep.
  • Practice nasal breathing  – see the previous lesson for some tactics in that department. 
  • Mindfulness – notice your hypervigilance and breath into it. Search for a moment where you know you are going to be OK. A nice deep, slow breath repeated two or three times. After these breaths, describe to yourself what you see in your immediate space. This helps pull the ruminating mind into the present where there are no things to ruminate on.
  • Take a break and admire what you are doing. Admiration is a happy feeling and happy feelings aren’t able to coexist with distress. Feel a sense of gratitude. Write out what it is you’re grateful for. Allow yourself to be in total awe of the moment. Be present.
  • Grounding techniques – Use your five senses to connect with the present moment. Here are some great examples.
  • Start a gratitude journal – simply write down three things you are grateful for in the morning and repeat at night.
  • Consider keeping a sleep journal – When you are reliving a nightmare it’s important to try to change the context to something that’s safe or that’s less fearful or less negative. Writing down those thoughts can be very helpful. Over time, that type of work can gradually dissipate the frequency and severity of those nightmares.
  • Continue with the sleep hygiene tips you have already been using.

The main point of all this is that sleep, or the lack of it, can make or break a person. It can help you heal if you have the rest you need, and it can be destructive if you’re not getting enough. It arms you with the strength you need to fight back against triggers, anxiety, depression, and dealing with troubling situations. Taking control of your day is a great place to start.


In Kindness,

Coach Bradley

Today’s Assignment – Breath Awareness

  1. For the remainder of today, when an anxious thought comes to mind, acknowledge that you don’t have to engage in it emotionally. Know that there’s a space between your thought and the response you can create through an awareness practice. Eventually, this will enable you to observe rather than participate in those troubling thoughts.
  2. At one point today, take a pause, notice your breath and follow its rhythm for two complete breaths. You might consider setting a recurring reminder on your phone to simply check in with your breath. 
  3. Take a few minutes and view this video on some grounding techniques.

Today’s Exercise

 We’re going to take a break from a formal exercise to teach another movement. Today, it’s the hollow hold, one of my favorite alternatives to the sit-up.

Watch this video and practice the hollow hold for 90 total/cumulative seconds.