Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Most people spend more than two hours each night dreaming, although most dreams are forgotten with the heart attack-inducing scream of the alarm clock. Mankind has been fascinated by dreams and their purpose for centuries, but it wasn’t until the discovery of rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep that modern researchers began to seriously look into them. They’ve uncovered some interesting facts.
5 Violent Dreams May Be Warning Signs
Do you thrash and scream in your sleep during violent dreams? Dreams that involve violence can be a warning sign of a rare sleep disorder called REM sleep behavior disorder, which causes you to act out your dreams. Sometimes violent dreams are an early sign of brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, according to research published July 28, 2010, in the journal “Neurology.” If you’re all kicky and slappy in your sleep, see your doctor for regular checkups.
4 Late Nights Cause Nightmares
Listen up, night owls. Research has revealed that people who stay up late are more likely to experience nightmares than those who hit the pillow early. However, researchers have not determined why night owls tend to have more nightmares. They do have a few theories, though. Among them is the idea that the stress hormone cortisol normally peaks in the morning right before you wake up. If you’re still sleeping at this time because you burned the midnight oil, the increased cortisol could trigger vivid dreams or nightmares. Or maybe it’s just that night owls also tend to be night eaters. That midnight burrito might affect your mind as well as your body.
3 Dreams are Not Prophetic
It’s been confirmed that dreams might help you process and consolidate memory. In a Harvard study, subjects were asked to get through a 3D maze, then nap or rest for 90 minutes before trying again. Those who napped claimed to dream about the experience and navigated the maze better than they did the first time. However, that’s about the limit of a dream’s power. Dreams do not foretell the future, unless you hear a phone ringing. If that happens, it’s likely that the phone is actually ringing. Otherwise, keep in mind that for every one of your dreams that seems to have come true the next day, there are 1,000 that did not. Basically, dream-related prophecies are simply statistical phenomenon.
2 Largely Unexplained
Freud believed that the purpose of dreams was to repress basic impulses, such as sexual desire and aggression. Other experts believe that dreams have no meaning at all. However, one thing they can agree on is that you can’t completely separate the function of sleep from the function of dreams. You need sleep to reorganize your brain and downsize all the junk you’ve fed into it during the day, so it’s ready and able to learn the next day. Some experts are studying whether dreaming is something that the brain has to do to carry out that process.
1 You Dream All Night
Many people think that you only dream during REM sleep, which occurs during the second half of the night, but this isn’t true. You dream throughout the night, because your body shifts in and out of a series of sleep states all night long. Sleep begins in the the non-rapid eye movement, or NREM, stage, and progresses through deep and light sleep stages throughout the night. You may vaguely recall dreams that range in vividness throughout the night. REM-sleep dreams tend to feel more vivid and surreal than those in other stages of sleep. Dreams that occur during the other stages may seem relatively dull and boring, so your brain is all, “Yeah, let’s forget that stuff.”