As mini-movies our minds creates while we sleep, dreams come in many shapes and forms - whether they follow a linear story or appear more abstract in nature. They can be scary (ex-boyfriend changed your Netflix password) depressing (no more TimTams left in the fridge), exciting (TimTams are 50% off at your the Grocery store), or just plain boring (you’ve living in a dream land where you’ve never even TRIED a TimTam).
Our dreams may make sense, or seem out of this world. Whatever they look like, we all dream! In fact, even people who are born blind dream - they just experience their other senses in their dreams, similar to their waking lives. Scientists estimate we dream at least 4 times per night, with each dream lasting up to 20 minutes. According to a group of a study conducted by the Journal of Sleep Research, all people dream when they sleep, even people who think they don’t. But… is there a correlation between good sleep and good dreams?
You have nightmares
Your dream might not make any logical sense - monsters, actions you’d never take, seeing people long gone. That’s because your brain sometimes uses your dreams to create faux experiences. Our dreams can be positive or negative, and there’s no question that nightmares have ramifications that last even after you wake up. Falling back asleep after awakening from a nightmare is tough, and those scary images can affect your mood and behaviour the next day, causing the equivalent of a bad-dream hangover.
Despite how it may feel, though, disturbing dreams don’t always have a significant effect on your sleep architecture, meaning they won’t necessarily change how much time you spend in the different stages of sleep or the number of times you awaken. What they can change: how long it takes to fall asleep at night and how challenging it is for your body to switch between non-REM and REM stages of sleep, which may leave you feeling less rested.
Frequently experiencing nightmares can sometimes be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or other mood disorders. If you experience nightmares on a regular basis, let your healthcare professional know so they can help address if there are any underlying causes.
You dream as soon as you fall asleep
This could be a sign of a neurological disorder called narcolepsy - it causes dreamers to fall directly into REM sleep (which takes most of us a while!). It's uncommon but if you're experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, you should chat to your healthcare professional.
Your dreams are extremely vivid
Most common among creatives and those who meditate before bed, vivid dreams can be caused by an elevated body temperature which make your neurotransmitters in the brain overly active and result in bizarre dreams or even hallucinations. This also explains why you could experience crazy dreams when you experience a fever. However, it's not all fun and games - sometimes vivid dreams can also trigger negative emotions and disrupt your sleep in a similar way to nightmares.
You don't dream at all
If you have very poor sleep, you may not even dream at all - but it depends on why you’re not having a good night’s sleep. Factors that can lead to poor sleep include consuming alcohol before bed, experiencing stress and having a stressful day. Other causes include using electronics like phones, televisions or computers in the bedroom; eating, exercising or consuming caffeine too late; having an uncomfortable bed or sleeping environment; and keeping an inconsistent sleep schedule.
Want better dreams?
While we can’t have 100% control over our dreams, there are things we can do to influence them in a positive direction, experts say. Among them: exposure to pleasant smells and sounds while we’re sleeping; avoiding spicy foods; not smoking; eating healthy and exercising regularly; and improving our daytime thought patterns. In simplistic terms, if you want good dreams, sleep well and think happy thoughts.