Dreaming remains one of the most complex subjects in psychology, and there are many unresolved questions about its benefits. Some believe dream symbols can provide insights into waking life. Others believe dreams are irrelevant and random.
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Why is the subconscious imagination pleasant on some occasions and unsettling on others? And, perhaps most importantly, what can you do about it? If you get better sleep, will it yield better dreams?
Why Is Sleep Important?
Research has already proven the connection between sufficient sleep and good brain health. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can affect your cognitive abilities, mood, and overall life quality. You’ll be drowsier the next day, making tasks like driving more dangerous. Experts caution that sleep deprivation may expose you to a higher risk for dementia, heart complications, and even early death.
While you can dream during any of the five main sleep stages, the rapid eye movement (REM) phase is the most important to dreaming. This phase of deep sleep is when dreams are most intense and vivid. Additionally, REM sleep is characterized by increased brain activity, particularly in the regions associated with visuals (imagery), emotions and motor functions.
Some brain regions, though, become less active during REM sleep. There’s little logical thinking, for instance, which is why some of your most vivid dreams may not make sense at all.
That said, getting sufficient sleep facilitates your progression to the vivid dreaming phase. You typically need about seven to eight hours of sleep to extend the REM period.
REM and Dreams
Adequate sleep plays a crucial role in having better dreams, which can help enhance your overall well-being. According to Matthew Walker, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, cycling through the vivid-dreaming phase may help your brain ease pain caused by traumatic experiences.
Having a REM dream can be so therapeutic that you can even wake feeling refreshed and healed from difficult experiences. According to Walker, REM sleep is the only moment throughout the day when your brain is 100 percent free of noradrenaline, a hormone that triggers anxiety and restlessness.
As you dream during REM, the brain’s crucial memory and emotional functions are highly active. Combine that with a calm state of mind during sleep, and you can subconsciously and safely ease away the pain of any traumatic memories from the previous day. Anxiety-free sleep can even help lessen the number of nightmare experiences for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says Walker.
REM dreams are about much more than mental relaxation, however. According to studies, dreaming during this deeper sleep state can enhance your cognitive capabilities in areas like creativity and problem-solving. It might explain why some famous people claim to have composed songs or solved complex problems in their dreams.
Getting a Better Night’s Sleep
Doctors have long warned the public about the harmful effects of sleep loss. Here are some strategies to get a better night’s sleep and enjoy the cognitive enhancements and healing benefits that come from REM dreaming:
- Practice Relaxation and Meditation Techniques– Going to bed feeling relaxed can help minimize anxiety, enabling you to sleep better.
- Limit Phone Use Before Bedtime– Using your phone or even watching TV late at night can prevent your brain and body from cycling into rest mode when you want to sleep. To avoid this, set your alarm to notify you when it’s time to switch off the TV, put down the phone, and start unwinding.
- Avoid Watching Scary or Stressful Content at Night: Some people get nightmares from watching scary movies, disturbing content, or depictions of stressful situations. If this is a problem for you, you may want to avoid this kind of media before bed.
- Check Your Alcohol and Caffeine Intake in the Evening– These substances can prevent you from cycling into REM sleep, denying you the crucial sleep/dream health benefits.
- Explore Breathing Technique– These can help you relax, ease anxiety and get a good night’s sleep.
- Find the Bed That’s Right for You– Most mattress companies sell different options to better suit a wide range of consumer preferences and physical needs. For example, if you sleep on your side, you may want to consider an air foam mattress or gel-infused option to maximize comfort. But if you sleep on your back, you may prefer a hybrid or innerspring mattress.
Better Sleeps Means Better Dream Experiences Getting a good night’s sleep is your best bet for positive dream experiences. All sleep phases are vital, but REM sleep is incredibly essential to providing maximum therapeutic effects and cognitive improvements. That means you should regularly enjoy seven to eight hours of high-quality sleep. This will help you avoid the numerous health complications associated with sleep deprivation and reap the benefits of good dreams.