We’ve all woken up after a particularly stressful, vivid dream (or let’s be honest—nightmare) and felt a wash of relief that it’s over. Especially those ones where you’re trying to run and it looks a little something like this. Those are the WORST!
If you’re someone who regularly has really cooked dreams, you may be relieved when you stop having them. But believe it or not, dreams are actually a good thing (yes, even those ones where you turn up at your old high school naked) and if you’re no longer having them, it’s not the best sign. Yep, just as you can be sleep deprived, you can also dream deprived.
A recent study from the Centre of Integrative Medicine suggests that “we are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived” and suggests that a “silent epidemic of REM sleep deprivation” is resulting in a range of health issues.
What causes dream deprivation?
The short answer is: when you’re not getting enough high quality, deep sleep. The long answer is: When we sleep, it follows a cyclical pattern of REM and non-REM slumber. You have to go through three phases of lighter, non-REM sleep (usually around 5 to 15 minutes) before you get to REM. It’s in this stage that your brain is more active, so you dream. But there are also multiple REM stages that get longer in duration and it’s in the later ones that you have those really vivid, detailed dreams.
So, if you’re continually waking up throughout the night, it’s likely you’re not going to reach that deep dreaming stage. So, the usual things that affect sleep quality (ie. stress, alcohol, not adequately winding down after bed) can also lead to dream deprivation. There’s also the chance that you do dream, but simply don’t remember them.
What are the effects of dream deprivation?
Of course, we already know all about the negative effects of sleep deprivation in general. But dreams aren’t just a byproduct of sleep— they have their own important purpose. In fact, Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California and author of Why We Sleep describes dreams as a type of ‘overnight therapy.’
“REM sleep is the only time when our brain is completely devoid of the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. At the same time, key emotional and memory-related structures of the brain are reactivated during REM sleep as we dream. This means that emotional memory reactivation is occurring in a brain free of a key stress chemical, which allows us to re-process upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment,” says Dr. Matthew Walker.
Without distractions, inhibitions and negative self-talk getting in the way, we can not only process unresolved issues but also dream up (literally) innovative new ideas and solutions. We’ve all heard artists and writers say that the inspiration for some of their greatest work ‘came to them in a dream.’ So, if you’ve been trying to come up with the perfect name for your new start-up, you’re going to want to make sure you’re getting plenty of dream time.
If you’re no longer dreaming, the best place to start is by trying to determine what’s disrupting your sleep and to introduce a relaxing, pre-bed routine to help you wind down.
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