Fun fact: we spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping and during that time, we dream. While it’s true that we dream just about every time we sleep, the majority of your dreams will be forgotten shortly after waking. If you do happen to remember one, you may recall it being entertaining, fascinating, terrifying, upsetting or even downright weird. If you’re noticing that you seem to be having an uptick in strange or weird dreams in particular, there may be a few reasons as to why. Keep reading to learn about some of the top culprits and what you can do about it.
How Does Dreaming Work?
What exactly is the science behind dreaming? You can dream during any stage of sleep, but you’re most likely to have vivid (or just plain bizarre) dreams during REM sleep which is when certain structures in your brain become increasingly active. On the contrary, non-REM dreams tend to be more coherent and include memories or thoughts tied to a particular time and place. One more thing: since the REM stage usually occurs soon before you wake up, experts believe morning dreams are often easier to remember. Oh, and while there have been plenty of studies out there that take a look atwhyandhow we dream, there’s no concrete or definitive way to understand what they mean.
Why Am I Having Weird Dreams Lately?
If you’re noticing your dreams seem, well, stranger than usual, there may be a few culprits. Stress is a big one, so if you’ve got a lot on your plate, or perhaps have a big job interview or exam coming up, it’s not uncommon to experience unsettling or strange dreams. Feeling on edge can keep you up when you should be catching some Zzzs, in turn leading to negative emotions when you’re awake. This cycle of feeling overwhelmed during the day and tossing and turning at night can lead to intense dreams.
Next up— pregnancy.If you’ve had a baby before, or are currently expecting, it’s likely you’re no stranger to frequent vivid dreams and even nightmares. One study compared 57 pregnant women in their third-trimester to non-pregnant women and discovered that while dream recall remained the same, 21 percent of the pregnant women reported bad dreams vs. 7 percent of the non-pregnant subjects. Those expecting littles ones also reported overall lower sleep quality and more frequent night awakenings.
Several studies have also demonstrated that people with certain medical conditions are more likely to have nightmares and vivid dreams, for example,one looked at 1,233 individuals with cardiovascular disease and determined that at least 15 percent remembered at least one nightmare per month. Additionally, sleep-related issues like sleep apnea can lead to an uptick in less-than-pleasant dreams.
Lastly, if you’ve ever indulged in a few drinks before bed, you may recall more intense and colorful dreams than you’re typically accustomed to— this is because although you may initially fall into a deep sleep, as your blood alcohol level drops, you end up waking up more frequently, leading to more REM sleep and dream recall (those of which may seem super strange).
What Can I Do About It?
While it’s not possible to keep weird or scary dreams entirely at bay, there are indeed steps you can take to lessen the frequency of them. A big one that may seem super obvious, but is actually often overlooked, is to create a sleep-inducing bedroom that’s a source of relaxation and comfort. A few ways to do so include using a high-performance mattress and pillow, avoiding excess light exposure (blackout curtains are your friend here), finding an ideal temperature (around 65 degrees) and even incorporating certain aromas into your bedtime routine like lavender.
There are several lifestyle factors to keep in mind that can also pave the way for better Zzzs and perhaps less disruptive dreams, for example, exercise has plenty of benefits for health and has been shown to help with solid sleep. Additionally, while it’s tempting to reach for continuous jolts of caffeine during the day to mitigate sleepiness, it’s wise to keep your caffeine consumption at bay— it can actually end up leading to more intense dreams due to worsened sleep quality. On the topic of beverages, it’s also worth avoiding alcohol in the lead-up to hitting the hay. And finally, while it’s so much easier said than done, disconnecting from tablets, computers, smartphones etc. about 30 minutes before bed can help with getting high-quality sleep.
Lastly, it’s important to point out that while implementing all of these suggested sleep strategies may seem overwhelming, the Sleep Foundation notes that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach— you can start small and overtime work your way up toward healthier sleep habits aka sleep hygiene.