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Recurring ADHD Dreams

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

In the case of my ADHD, the equal and opposite reaction is anxiety. If you screw up enough times, you learn that it’s only a matter of time before you’re going to screw up again.

This anxiety can make itself known a lot of different ways. Doubt. Perfectionism. Second-guessing.

Recurring ADHD DreamsThe most tangible way it presents itself, though, is through recurring dreams. I have a whole category of dreams centered on disorganization and inattention that I would guess arose mostly as an anxious response to ADHD symptoms.

In the dream I had last night, a dream I’ve had many times in many different permutations, I’m getting ready to catch a flight. Right before I leave, I find out that I’ve been misremembering the departure time for the flight, which is actually taking off in ten minutes.

The question then becomes whether it’s worth trying to make it to the airport in time. And this is a situation I’m quite familiar with from my waking life – being so late to something that I have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of going at all.

At this point, I often wake up. On at least one occasion when I didn’t wake up, the dream continued with me scrambling to get to the airport, only to get lost at the airport trying to find my gate.

Then, of course, there are the school dreams. Typically these involve reaching the end of the course without having turned in any of the assignments or done any of the reading, or possibly even gone to class.

It’s like the infamous final exam dream, which Freud wrote about over hundred years ago, but the focus isn’t as much on the act of failing an exam as the general situation of wondering how I could have let things get so out of hand and feeling guilty about just how little work I’ve done.

Like the airport dreams, the school dreams are distillations of real-life situations I’m well-versed in. When I was in school, I was constantly falling behind in my work in different ways, then wondering “how did this happen?”

Later in the night, I’ll often have an especially perverse kind of recurring dream: the dream about sleeping through my alarm. Note that this dream can flow quite nicely into the airport dream.

I think of these as “ADHD dreams” because the feelings I have during these dreams are the same feelings I have in situations that I’ve habitually ended up in as a result of my ADHD symptoms, like falling behind in school.

But the connection isn’t always this abstract. I once had a very vivid and painful dream where someone started yelling at me and telling me I didn’t have ADHD because I was just lazy. This dream was not too long after my diagnosis, and I’m happy to say that as far as I can remember I haven’t had it since.

Maybe what’s most interesting to me about recurring ADHD dreams is that they show how deeply embedded ADHD anxieties can become in your psyche. Living with ADHD isn’t just about the first-order effects that symptoms have on your life, but about the second-order effects of how experiencing those first-order effects changes your outlook, and the third-order effects of how you respond to those second-order effects, and so on. That’s why it’s so complicated.

D’you have any ADHD-related dreams? I’m very interested to hear, so please share!

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Recurring ADHD Dreams

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Recurring ADHD Dreams. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 12 Mar 2016
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