Dreams may not be so sweet if they are impacting your quality of sleep. We all dream each night, whether the dreams are remembered or not. Many Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. It’s important to have an understanding of ideal sleep and how our sleeping patterns may impact overall health and wellness.
How Dreams Work
Everyone dreams anywhere from 3 to 6 times each night. Dreaming is normal and a healthy part of sleeping. Dreams are a series of images, stories, emotions and feelings that occur throughout the stages of sleep. The dreams that you remember happen during the REM cycle of sleep. REM means rapid eye movement. The REM sleep happens approximately 90 minutes after you have fallen asleep and lasts around ten minutes. The brain is very active at this point and that is when the more memorable dreams happen.
It seems that often, dreams occur as a way for us to play out events that happened during the day. They seem to be a response to an experienced environment. If one has something stressful or particularly sad happen to them during the day, they are more likely to dream about it at night. There are now some studies that suggest dreaming helps the brain with its memory function. They help with cognition and your ability to process events – “…dreaming is a natural extension of waking conscious experience.1”
There are many theories about what we dream and why. Whatever the case, what should be of particular importance to an individual is not necessarily what they dream about but how it impacts sleep quality.
The Impact of Dreams
While dreaming is normal, there can be some abnormal parts of dreaming that interfere with sleep or overall mental health. For example, if you experience vivid dreams immediately after you have fallen asleep, it could be a sign of a sleep condition called narcolepsy.
Dreams do not typically negatively impact sleep, but nightmares can. The way they influence sleep is that it can make it more difficult to fall asleep and cause difficulty in moving between sleep cycles.2 This can make a person drowsier during the day.
On Daily Life
Good and bad dreams can impact daily life. Frequent nightmares may impede a person’s ability to fall asleep and then cause sleepiness during the day. Dreaming can also aid in a person’s ability to process others’ positive emotions, making the individual have a higher level of social competence.
Not dreaming may mean you are not reaching REM sleep and therefore may cause higher rates of sleepiness, depression and health issues. It seems to be that those who have negative dreams also have higher rates of stress during the day and are more likely to have sleep disorders. Likewise, those who have positive dreams are less likely to have sleep disorders. Though, it’s difficult to know the cause. Regardless, trying to think positively during the day may help the types of positive or negative dreams that occur at night.3.
Night Terrors and Nightmares
Night terrors and nightmares are two different types of dreams. Night terrors show up as someone thrashing or groaning in the middle of their sleep due to a negative dream and are associated with non-REM sleep. It typically occurs in children. They do not wake up due to the night terror, although it may last 10-30 minutes. Nightmares are a negative type of dream that causes one to wake abruptly and is associated with the REM sleep cycle. It can happen to anyone of any age. Sleep deprivation can cause an increase in nightmares.
There are many different things that can factor into the quality of your sleep, so feel free to reach out to ASMS if you’re curious about how you can improve your sleep quality today!
- Paul, F., Schredl, M., & Alpers, G. W. (2015). Nightmares affect the experience of sleep quality but not sleep architecture: an ambulatory polysomnographic study. Borderline personality disorder and emotion dysregulation, 2, 3. doi:10.1186/s40479-014-0023-4
- Weinstein, N., Campbell, R., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2018). Linking psychological need experiences to daily and recurring dreams. Motivation and emotion, 42(1), 50–63. doi:10.1007/s11031-017-9656-0