Ever wake up from a dream and remember it so clearly that you’re almost unsure if it was real or not? You can recall precisely how the dream felt, your emotions, and maybe even the smells and sounds. These are called vivid dreams. And science suggests that they could be your brain’s way of processing information from the day and making sense of it. So, why do vivid dreams happen, and what do they mean for you and your health?
Why do I have vivid dreams?
According to research by Casper, a leading mattress company and sleep experts, over 72% of people reported that their dreams were becoming more and more vivid last year. But what is causing these vivid dreams?
The truth is scientists aren’t 100% certain about why vivid dreams happen. However, they suspect that it has something to do with the way the brain processes information and its memories.
During REM sleep—those ~90-minute cycles of deep sleep where rapid eye movement occurs—we are more likely to dream intensely, and this is most probably when vivid dreams are happening. Considering REM makes up approximately 20-25% of an adult’s nightly sleep, this is a lot of time for the brain to process.
Here are some of the main (suspected) of vivid dreams:
A stressful day/week/month
Anxiety isn’t just in your head. It can also cause genuine physical effects—from problems with eating to headaches, fatigue, and even vivid dreams. For every person, their level of stress tolerance is different, and almost anything can be a trigger. For example, vivid dreams may result from:
- Loss of a friend or family member
- Exam stress
- Problems in work or school
- Significant life changes such as getting married
Your current health
Sleeping issues, such as insomnia and narcolepsy, can cause one’s dreams to become vivid. In addition, you may also experience such effects after an illness, and especially if you have a fever or during a long-term condition such as cancer or heart disease.
Other mental health conditions, for example, depression, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorders, can also disrupt sleep and be one of the reasons that vivid dreams occur.
The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy have also been linked to more vivid dreaming, and this is quite a common symptom that many expectant mothers report.
Medication and other substances
There’s no doubt that what goes into our bodies can affect how we feel and respond, and this is the case in terms of medication and other substances. Antidepressants,blood pressure meds, among others, can cause more realistic dreams.
In addition, alcohol and recreational drugs are also linked to disturbed sleep patterns and vivid dreaming.
Is having vivid dreams a bad sign?
By themselves, vivid dreams aren’t known to be a sign of anyone's specific problem and, as such, are generally nothing to worry about. However, that’s not to say that they won’t disturb your sleep, and this can be essential to your health. For example, if you have vivid dreams, you may experience:
- Mood-related issues—such as anxiety, low mood, and even suicidal ideation. If this is the case, please seek help immediately.
- Trouble sleeping—you may find yourself tossing and turning at night trying to get rest or even avoiding going to sleep.
- Sleeping too much during the day—feeling overtired from the night before can leave you sluggish and unable to cope with the day ahead.
What can I do about vivid dreams?
In most cases, one or two nights of vivid dreams are nothing to worry about. However, if they are happening continuously or you are noticing some additional effects from those restless nights, then it is time to seek help.
Always get in touch with your doctor, who will be able to consult with you accurately on the next steps to take. Please, do not settle for online advice. However, that said, in the meantime, there are some helpful activities you can try to relax your mind and get some healthy shut-eye.
Getting in exercise each and every day is not just important for our physical health. It’s essential for our mental well-being too. Exercise boosts those feel-good hormones of the body and helps the mind to unwind and relax.
You may have heard that cheese gives you nightmares. And it seems there is some truth to this myth. According to the science, eating heavy food before bed can cause you to spend more time in REM sleep. This can lead to more intense dreams. The best way to help your brain relax is eating healthy throughout the day and leaving a little time before bed for your stomach to rest too.
Chances are your mind is working overtime, trying to fit everything into your busy day. That, coupled with the stresses of the modern world and working environment, can leave you anxious. One way to calm your mind and get it ready for sleep is meditation. If this is something new to you, head on over to our YouTube channel and check out our quick tutorial on how to get started.