As you enter REM sleep, thoughts, images, and sensations appear behind your eyes. It’s as if everything that has happened to you in your past and present is being written in a language that is hard to understand.
Some people believe that dreams are hidden messages our brains try to tell us. While other theories suggest that dreaming is our brain’s way of processing and storing information such as memories.
So many questions float through our minds as we try to interpret and understand the phenomenon behind our dreams. But, what do dreams mean? Do they have a meaning – or purpose? Why do dreams happen, and how do they work? Does dreaming mean good sleep? Is dreaming good or bad?
By reading this article, you can expect to find the answers many of us wonder about – the ultimate guide to dreams, what they mean, why they happen, and how they work.
- What Happens When You Dream?
- Does Dreaming Mean You Are Getting Good Sleep?
- What Is the Reason Behind Dreams?
What Happens When You Dream?
You may be wondering: “How do dreams work?” Dreaming is how your brain processes emotions, thoughts, events, and memories. Dreaming begins after REM sleep has begun. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) typically starts about an hour and a half after falling asleep. It’s the stage of sleep where your brain is the most active, which is why you dream.
During REM sleep, your heart may beat faster, breathing may become quickened, and your eyes will move behind your eyelids (hence the name).
According to a Texan neuropsychologist, the upper part of the cerebral cortex, called cortical parts, is more active. The cortical parts are responsible for higher-function thought such as language. At the same time, the portions of the brain responsible for movement are less active – which is why your body is temporarily paralyzed during this state.
The cerebral cortex is responsible for emotional reasoning, conscious awareness, thought, language, and memory.
Is It Good To Have Dreams Every Night?
There is no evidence proving that dreams are bad, although some types of dreams, such as nightmares, fever dreams, and false awakening dreams, feel uncomfortable and unnerving. Each type of dream serves its own purpose in your waking life.
- Normal dreams allow your brain to store memories and make sense of your waking life.
- Lucid dreams are when you’re in control of your unconscious state and may allow you to be more creative, help you resolve conflict, and feel less anxiety.
- Psychic dreams help you prepare for the future and come to you as a sign or a warning.
- False awakening dreams allow you to identify struggles in your life and help you resolve whatever has been bothering you.
- Nightmares are scary, but they help you discover hidden fears or open perspectives about your life that you may have been avoiding.
No matter the dream you experience, since dreams happen during the REM stage, it’s safe to say that having one every night is beneficial.
Sleep Quality and Dreams
Most of the time, getting to a dream state during sleep helps promote staying focused throughout your day and enables your brain to work to the best of its ability. People who do not reach REM sleep experience more anxiety, fatigue, and moodiness.
However, dreaming is a double-edged sword – your goal is to get to a dream state to feel the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. The less sleep you get, the more likely you’re going to experience a dream state immediately after falling asleep, which can result in narcolepsy. However, if you experience nightmares, you may feel afraid to fall asleep.
On the other hand, if you never reach the dream stage, you’ll likely suffer from higher levels of sleepiness, depression, and health issues throughout daily life.
Does Dreaming Mean You Are Getting Good Sleep?
So do dreams affect sleep quality? There are two explanations for whether dreams mean you are getting a night of good sleep. On the one hand, you may have tossed and turned all through the night, dreamt a little, and woke up feeling disoriented, confused, and extremely tired, as if you hadn’t slept at all. On the other hand, you may have slept as sound as a bear, had a great dream, and woke up refreshed.
Firstly, it is possible to experience dreams before reaching REM sleep. In this case, you’re not getting good sleep. Alternatively, you’re more likely to wake refreshed when you dream in REM sleep.
So, is dreaming good or bad? Sleep is like a fingerprint – so many things can happen from the moment you go to bed to when you wake up.
The first two stages of sleep mean that you can be easily awakened. Stages three and four are when your body becomes heavy, and the world around you disappears. After hitting the deep sleep stage (part of NREM), you’ll experience REM sleep which typically lasts no longer than 110 minutes.
Dreaming can happen at any stage during sleep – deciding whether dreams mean you’re getting quality sleep or if they are harmful depends on when you experience the dreams. So, as you see, there is no definitive answer. To avoid poor sleep quality, aim for a good bedtime routine and keep a strict sleep schedule.
Is There a Correlation Between Excessive Dreaming and Fatigue?
While it’s best to only dream during the REM stage, it’s possible to over-dream or experience excessive dreaming – which case can result in daily sleepiness or fatigue.
Repetitive dreams, ongoing nightmares, and negative lucid or vivid dreams can cause sleepiness, mood problems, and insomnia. In rare cases, over-dreaming may cause depression and suicidal attempts, which needs to be addressed by a doctor immediately.
Can Nightmares Make You Tired?
Nightmares are dreams with a frightening experience during your dream state and may often wake you up. While an occasional nightmare is not harmful because it’s your brain’s way of processing information, nightly nightmares can significantly negatively impact your waking life and quality of sleep.
People who experience nightmares also experience higher levels of cognitive distortions, mood imbalances, and extreme daytime sleepiness. The sufferer will eventually experience a state of hypersomnia where it’s challenging to stay awake and challenged to stay asleep due to the nightmares.
What Is the Reason Behind Dreams?
According to Freud, dreams serve the purpose of self-organization. Freud explains that dreams are subjective to our waking life; thus, dreams have created a byproduct of our mental and physical state.
Dr. Hobson created the AIM theory, which states that dreams have a neurobiological explanation originating from reproductive and survival functions. Hobson explains that everything except the basic survival instincts switches off when dreams happen.
Another theory is Dr. Hartmann’s contemporary theory of dreaming. Hartmann believes the brain needs to connect everything that surrounds us – environmentally, physically, mentally, biologically, and psychologically. Hartmann states that dreams are one’s connection to the world around us through our personal experiences.
Lastly, we have Dr. Griffin’s expectation fulfillment theory. Dr. Griffin explains that dreams only signify or stem from our instinctive patterns or expectations of ourselves. He says dreams are metaphors or unfulfilled arousals to our subconscious thoughts and desires.
Other evidence includes:
Information Processing and Memory Storing
It is believed that dreams help us restore information by processing them into memories so that it’s easier to recall important events throughout our lives.
As Hobson said, circuits in the brain are activated during sleep which creates a display of electrical impulses that is only triggered by the hippocampus and amygdala regions of our brain. The amygdala helps process emotions brought on by personal experiences, while the hippocampus relates to how we remember the feeling storing it as episodic memory.
Preparation and Protection
Stemming from the theory that our body shuts down and our brain takes over, surviving mainly on instincts – dreaming helps prepare us for threatening situations. Evidence proves the theory is correct because we don’t die when we fall asleep.
Dreaming helps strengthen the fight-or-flight response in our brains so that we can handle and resolve conflict in our waking lives.
Bringing the last two theories to fruition, it is believed that dreaming helps us process emotions enabling us to become more emotionally stable. Evidence proves this theory regarding the lack of REM sleep contributing to fatigue and rapid mood swings.
As the amygdala and hippocampus work together to store long-term and short-term memories, it can only be done when we are calm, which is why dreams can often be bizarre or alarming.
The theory suggests that REM sleep is vital to brain regulation, so many people experience emotional responses stemming from their dreams as a natural way to process information.
So is dreaming a sign of good sleep? There is no definitive answer to how dreams work or whether they affect your sleep quality. Although theories suggest dreams are essential to human life and survival, only the individuals experiencing dreams can interpret what the dream means for themselves. The brain is a mysterious organ that has not been thoroughly studied yet.
Science does know that when we reach a state of REM sleep, dreams are more likely to happen. However, sometimes dreams can happen during NREM sleep, which may result in poor quality of sleep.
On the other hand, when you set a good bedtime routine and strive for REM sleep, your sleep quality will increase, resulting in a happier, healthier life.