Dreams: often a hot topic of conversation and for a variety of reasons; why do we have them? What do they mean? Am I even dreaming (if I can’t recall them)? Dreams are images, thoughts, and emotions we experience while we sleep. They can be intense, confusing, happy, sad, even sometimes straight up boring. Sometimes they will have a clear narrative, while other times will make no sense at all!
When we sleep our brain cycles through five different sleep stages. There are two main types of sleep; rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep. The Non-REM state is divided into four stages with the fifth stage being REM. In Stage 5 or REM, as the name implies, your eyes move rapidly. This stage is when you tend to have intense dreams as your brain is more active. A recent study found that during a dream and more importantly during the REM sleep cycle, the emotional centre of the brain is highly active whereas the logical, rational centre of the brain is slowed. This explains why dreams throughout REM are more emotive and surreal.
Feel like you’ve been dreaming a lot more recently? Having more vivid dreams? You’re not alone, and there is a reason for it! With many people reporting in the past few months having detailed, realistic and intense dreams. There are two main reasons why you might be having more vivid dreams: heightened stress and anxiety and changes in your sleep behaviours. According to Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, “dreams are thought to be the brain’s way of working out our emotional problems, and the more anxious we become, the more vivid the dream images become”. There is no evidence to suggest that we dream more frequently when anxious and stressed but there is evidence to suggest that when anxious and stressed, we remember our dreams more. Did you know that if you’re not remembering your dreams it doesn’t mean they didn’t occur? Most people forget half of what they’ve dreamt about within the first minutes after waking up, and 90% after ten minutes.
As mentioned, changes in your sleep behaviours will also affect your dreams. For example, if you have been working from home you might be sleeping in longer and not waking to an alarm. Research shows that waking up naturally results in longer dreams and heighten dream recall. Hence the changes in our sleep behaviours mean not only might you be dreaming more frequently but also remembering the dreams more (Rowan Hooper, 2020).
There is significant research and theories on dreams but unfortunately still no definitive answer on exactly what dreams are and why we have them. Have any further sleep related questions? Attend one of our Sleep Information Sessions and see how we can assist you.
Rowan Hooper, 2020, How coronavirus is affecting your dreams – and what to do about it, [online] Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2242379-how-coronavirus-is-affecting-your-dreams-and-what-to-do-about-it/
Jason Ellis, 2020, Why do we dream? [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/why-do-we-dream-135609