Some people remember them in vivid detail, others in bursts throughout the next day, and some not at all. Regardless how you experience your dreams, they are a normal and natural part of life, the sleep cycle, and our circadian rhythms. Though our dreams are usually most thorough and intense during the REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, part of the sleep cycle, they can occur at any point when we are asleep and on average we dream two hours per night.
Medical science has yet to determine why exactly we dream, however, there are many theories and much speculation. Awakening from a particularly anxiety inducing nightmare, or happy euphoric dream to realize it was just that, can illustrate just how they can sway our emotions and mental state.
The Reasons we Dream
As mentioned above, the exact reasons why we dream have yet to be determined by sleep researchers, however, many hypotheses have been put forward. Many believe dreams may be a way of confronting or dealing with emotions and instances that we may be weary of addressing in the waking world. It has also been suggested that dreams may be a means of preparing us to handle situations or threats in the waking world due to stimulation of the amygdala, the part of the brain which controls our fight or flight response, during dreaming. There are many instances of creatives and business minded people contributing some of their greatest achievements to ideas that have come to them in the dream world. This has led some to develop theories on the facilitation of objectives and ideas in the dream state.
Influences on our Dreams
Though we ultimately understand very little about dreams and why they happen, researchers have been able to determine many separate factors in waking hours that may contribute to the overall subject matter and intensity of our dreams. The quality of sleep and how much you get per night is one of the most impactful elements on dreaming. When finally sleeping after prolonged periods of no rest, or non-quality sleep, dreams may be much more vivid. Another major catalyst for uncommon dream patterns can be pregnancy or hormone production. Both of these conditions can lend themselves to extra vivid dreams. One study has also indicated that daily exercise can lead to more time spent in the REM state, leading to more dreaming. According to the study, this is especially true if exercising in the morning as opposed to at night.
The Effects of Dreaming and Nightmares
It's obvious to anyone who has ever been affected by a particularly intense dream that the effects can last long after waking. Particularly vivid nightmares can make it hard to return to sleep afterward and can certainly have a impact on behavior and mood the following day. Similar effects to that of insomnia may be experienced if dreams or nightmares are preventing you from sleeping. Does this mean that good dreaming is indicative of healthy sleep patterns? Not exactly, though researchers have established links between healthy sleep patterns and positive dreams, it's still unclear which promotes the other or if, in fact, they do at all.
The Effects of Dreaming on Sleep Structure
Though your dreams may be enough to affect your mood and behavior, research thus far has shown that they don't seem to affect overall sleep structure. What this means is that regardless of the type of dreams you have, there doesn't seem to be a correlation between the amount of time spent in each of the stages of the sleep cycle, or how much one is awakened throughout the night. However, as mentioned above, unpleasant dreams can sometimes affect the want or desire to sleep and can in that way effect your overall sleep health.
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