Daydreaming is a regular part of daily life for many people. However, some experience frequent and intrusive daydreams that disrupt their everyday tasks.
This article will discuss what maladaptive daydreaming is, how to recognize it, and how to manage it.
Daydreaming refers to the sensation of a wakeful indulgence in thoughts that are not related to a person’s immediate surroundings or activity.
They are often pleasant experiences, as a person might imagine or fantasize about engaging in a desired activity or achieving a goal.
Experts believe that daydreaming could be the product of a collection of brain regions known as the default mode network.
The default mode network is in a part of the brain’s cortex that demonstrates consistent activity patterns when the brain is otherwise in a state of rest.
In other words, brain activity in this network is at its highest when the brain is not attending to a task. Activity levels in the default mode network fall if the brain starts to pay attention to an external task or object.
The default mode network is important in producing conscious experiences, and some research has shown it to increase in activity when someone is daydreaming.
Although some have linked it to creativity and introspection, excessive daydreaming can interfere with an individual’s normal functioning at work, at school, or in relationships.
In 2002, Prof. Eli Somer first defined the phenomenon of maladaptive daydreaming. He believed that maladaptive daydreaming could develop as a result of trauma or abuse and act as a coping strategy that a person could use to escape reality.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition does not recognize maladaptive daydreaming as a diagnosable condition. A stronger evidence base is required before healthcare professionals can fully understand maladaptive daydreaming and treat it as a medical condition.
However, maladaptive daydreaming does occur, and it can have an adverse impact on an individual’s daily life.
Because maladaptive daydreaming is not yet recognized as a medical condition, determining a defining list of symptoms for it is challenging.
However, symptoms may include one or several of the following:
- highly vivid and immersive daydreams
- abnormally long daydreams that are hard to escape
- an inability to carry out daily tasks
- daydreams that are triggered by external events or stimuli, such as watching a movie or listening to music
- sleep disruption and insomnia
- repetitive and unconscious movements when daydreaming, such as rocking back and forth or twitching
It is also possible for a person to exhibit some symptoms that are common in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as a short attention span.
It is not currently possible to formally diagnose maladaptive daydreaming.
Experts did develop a 14-point Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale to help people determine whether or not they are experiencing symptoms of it. However, people should only use the scale as an indication. Its purpose is not to provide a formal diagnosis.
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that maladaptive daydreaming can be classed as a psychiatric condition, but it does have some similarities with some of them.
For example, people with dissociative identity disorder can enter states of detachment from reality, becoming engrossed in a fantasy or disillusion.
That said, people who experience maladaptive daydreaming are usually aware that their daydreams are not reality.
There is no standard treatment for maladaptive dreaming. However, there are some techniques derived from anecdotal evidence that may help a person manage the symptoms.
These techniques include the following:
- Reducing fatigue: A person can do this by increasing the amount or quality of sleep they get. It may also be helpful to use stimulants such as caffeine to combat tiredness in the daytime.
- Being aware of symptoms: Keeping others informed about one’s symptoms may provide them with an opportunity to notice and interrupt the maladaptive daydreaming.
- Identifying and avoiding triggers: Keeping a diary of when maladaptive daydreaming occurs can help a person identify activities or stimuli that trigger it.
- Trying therapy: This can help identify the triggers and underlying causes of maladaptive daydreaming. Therapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy may help expose any underlying issues. A therapist might also suggest some useful coping strategies.
- Taking medications: It is unlikely that someone’s maladaptive daydreaming would be severe enough to require medication. However, a drug called fluvoxamine can help ease the symptoms.
Without a formal system of diagnosis, it can be hard to determine the presence of maladaptive daydreaming or find treatments for it.
However, if the symptoms are disrupting a person’s daily life, they should seek medical help.
Identifying and avoiding the triggers can also help someone focus on tasks outside of their daydreams.
Although no formal treatment structures are in place, several online communities exist where individuals can share their experiences and seek guidance about maladaptive daydreaming.