How often do you dream? Do you remember your dreams, do you like dreaming, do you have good dreams? This might seem like a series of random questions. But dreaming actually forms a big part of our lives! Whether you recall your dreams, or live under the illusion that you do not dream at all. When we sleep, we dream.
But does dreaming have an impact on our day to day life? Can the dreams we have influence how we feel the next day? And to take it even further, can the dreams we have affect us physically, not just mentally and emotionally?
Now some of you might be wondering why I want to talk about dreams today. So let me explain. Over the past weekend I had some really messed up dreams and believe it or not, it left me feeling drained and tired. My body didn’t feel good – it felt sluggish and sore. Hence I started wondering about dreams and if the can have a negative influence on your body. And I came up with some really interesting answers, so keep on reading of you want to know whether dreaming can influence the quality of your sleep.
What are dreams?
In this case, it is not your aspirations to become an astronaut or to be filthy rich. We are talking about the stuff that happens while you are asleep. According to the dictionary, a dream is a series of thoughts, images and sensations that occur during a person’s sleep. Dreaming can come in many forms. Sometimes dreams make perfect sense, while other times they are chaotic and unreal. And that is exactly what we are talking about today – if and how can those kinds of dreams influence your waking state.
Sometimes we dream about cool stuff and we wake up feeling happy. I remember when I was small I dreamed that I got this one Lego set that I really wanted so badly at the time. The dream was so realistic! My room looked just like I left it the previous evening, except the new Lego set was there too. When I woke up I was so excited to play with it. But boy, did that happiness fade away quickly when I realized that it was only a dream…
Why do we dream?
This is a question that has been bugging us humans from the very beginning of our existence. Some of the earliest writings contain fragments of dreams and questions about those dreams. People wondered back then in ancient times, what their dreaming meant (and when I say ancient, I’m talking about 7000 years ago). That is a long time! Anyway, back to their dreamworld; The ancients ascribed all sorts of properties to dreams. According to the Mesopotamian culture, dreams could hold the key to improving your future. If one could only have their dream laid out for them, they could change the course of their lives in terms of that dream. It must have been hectic, because if I had to change the course of my life every time I dream something, I would have been mad by now.
In more recent philosophy and psychology, scientists and philosophers are still not sure why we dream. The famous Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and founding father of psychoanalysis, thought that dreams reflect our innermost desires. According to his theories, the dreamworld is where we live out our deepest and darkest desires. Those things that will be shunned by society and that we are too scared to make public. He said that in dreaming, we could also discover our deepest motivations and how we think about people.
Other scientists think that dreaming is just a spin-off product of brain wave activity, while others say that dreaming helps us to consolidate memories. There are recent studies that show evidence for the fact that dreaming is a coping mechanism. According to a study conducted at the University of Lyon in France, people that do not dream enough become more stressed and depressed.
How did the study prove that?
To answer that question, we first need to know when we dream. So let’s discuss that quickly. As you probably know by now, humans go through a sleep cycle when we sleep. There are five main stages to the sleep cycle and it takes roughly 90 minutes to complete one sleep cycle. First, we enter a light sleep stage, after which we go into deeper and deeper sleep. The fourth and deepest sleep stage is very creatively called the “very deep sleep” stage. After the very deep sleep stage, we enter Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM sleep). It is during this stage of sleep that we dream the most. Scientists know this because they have tracked a lot of sleeping people’s brainwave activity throughout the last couple of decades, and all of the evidence shows that brainwave activity is at its peak during REM sleep.
So in order for these scientists to determine whether the lack of dreaming influenced people, they woke their subjects up every time the subjects entered the REM sleep phase. After doing this for a couple of weeks, the subjects showed clear signs of depression and increased levels of anxiety. From this they decided that it is clear we need to dream in order for us to cope with every day life.
In another dream related study, it was found that people who tend to dream more than the average were also depressed and anxious. How does that work? Do these two studies contradict each other? That was my immediate assumption. But after reading the studies, I found that this is not the case. This second study actually focused on people that were already depressed to begin with. So in other words, the study’s focus area was on depressed people.
Scientists decided to study depressed people and their dreaming activity, because a lot of depressed people were complaining about vivid dreams. And it is quite interesting to see the outcome of their research. They also agree with the first study, that dreaming is a mechanism to cope with stress and that it is a way for the brain to kind of sort through the things that happened during the day. The study also found that depressed people dream up to three times more than the average person. That is probably why they remember their dreams so well, because they had a whole lot more than the rest of us!
According to this study, depressed people dream more because they really struggle to cope with reality while they are awake. So their brains try to work through their problems while they are asleep. This in turn leaves them feeling tired and drained when they wake up, because they didn’t get enough restorative sleep during the night. And so the cycle continues. It just becomes worse and worse for these poor people. They feel bad during the day, then they have bad dreams at night. When they wake up, they have to deal with the bad dreams and with what they perceive as the bad reality.
But there is hope!
The Clinical Depression website says that people suffering from depression can successfully beat it! One of the methods to counteract depression is to wake up every time you start dreaming. Now this is not a simple matter and it requires intimate knowledge about your sleeping patters. Ideally, this kind of treatment should take place under supervision of sleep experts that can monitor your brainwaves and make sure you wake up at the right time.
Another way to fight the depression is to relax during the day. And this is also easier said than done. With a busy work schedule, finding time to really relax is not always easy. But try to work it onto your busy schedule anyway. Go for a spa treatment or roll out a yoga mat in your lunch hour, put some relaxing music on and just stretch out your body and breathe deeply. Try not to focus on your bad dreams or workload. Just focus on breathing and on the music.
So, does dreaming influence the quality of our sleep?
What do you guys think? Do you think dreaming influences the quality of our sleep? I sure do! Dreaming too much can have a negative effect on us. But then, not dreaming enough can also be bad for us! So we have to get the balance just right.
There are some sleep experts that say we can determine what we dream. Or to an extent, at least. They say that, before you go to sleep, you should think of whatever it is you want to dream about. Try to create a picture that describes what you want to dream about in your mind. Now fix this picture in your head and try to make sure that it is the last thing you think about when you fall asleep. According to these sleep experts, that gives you a fair chance of dreaming what you want to dream.
I don’t know about you, but I will definitely picture myself flying through the air tonight when I drift off…