Want a good night’s sleep? Dream On!
Dr. Craig Hudson, MD | January 13, 2017
Humans have been fascinated by dreams for as long as we can remember. Multiple theories ranging from the scientific to the mystical have emerged on exactly why our brains produce these late night ‘picture-shows’ once we drift off to sleep. In this article, we will discuss what dreaming is; some of the theories on why we do it and how it affects the overall quality of our sleep.
What are dreams?
Thoughts. Pictures. Stories. Some may say: Desires. Fears.
When we sleep, our minds concoct the imagery that we call dreams. The subject matter can be mundane, fantastic and sometimes even weird and scary. The majority of dreaming is believed to occur in the fifth stage of the sleep cycle (REM sleep) and on average, most of us dream between three and six times per night (whether or not we recall those dreams is another matter).
Why do we dream?
There are many theories out there on the actual reasons as to why people dream. Some explanations include:
- The manifestation of unconscious desires.
- The interpretation of signals sent out by the brain during sleep.
- The processing of information received by the brain during waking hours.
- Consolidation of learning.
- Development of cognitive abilities.
Dreams and their relationship to sleep
While we may not fully understand why we dream, one thing that we do know is that dreams are important to the quality of our sleep, which in turn is important to everything else in our lives.
REM Sleep – the stage at which most dreaming takes place - represents a full 20-25% of our sleep. If the sleep cycle is interrupted and your body is unable to reach REM sleep, you will typically awake feeling exhausted and sluggish throughout the day.
Some say that those with sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea frequently have dreams that are more stressful or negative in tone.[i] So often, even when these individuals do finally get some shuteye, their sleep is often plagued with troubling dreams.
In turn, nightmares themselves can cause the sleeper to awake – interrupting the sleep cycle.
How to have better sleep cycles and better dreams
Since there is a direct correlation between quality sleep and the quality of dreams, it just makes sense to work toward improvements on both if you are having trouble. While medical help is an option, many people are able to improve their sleep through natural methods such as sticking to a bedtime routine, meditation and sleep aids such as ZenBev.
As for improving your dreams, it is important to remember that people often dream about the last thing that they were thinking about before they fell asleep.[ii] For this reason, it is a good idea to avoid things that may cause stress for at least a few hours before bed. In other words, do not check your work emails at night and steer clear of scary movies before jumping into bed!
Meditation, relaxation techniques and yoga exercise are all practices worth considering.
As it turns out, sweet dreams are pretty important. Why not spend some time making them sweeter!