Dreams, Nightmares, & Mental Health

Writing this week over at Missouri Partners in Prevention! See the preview below or link to the full article here: “Dreams, Nightmares, & Mental Health”

At the end of October, with all the spooky themes and Halloween fun, it seemed like a good time to talk about dreams, nightmares, and how sleep plays into our mental health.

It is generally recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. During the time we are asleep, our brain “cycles” through different sleep phases, one of which is REM (rapid eye movement). This is the part of the cycle where dreams and nightmares occur.

One full sleep cycle, on average, lasts between 90-110 minutes as we shift between shallow and deep sleep. Interestingly, REM sleep takes up more of each cycle as the night goes on, with the longest periods taking place in the final hours of the night. That’s why, if we don’t get a full seven to nine hours, we are likely missing out on some of the most important hours for our mind to dream.

Function & Benefits of Dreaming

Dreaming is a healthy part of our sleep cycle, used for several functions including building memory, processing emotions, and determining which information to keep and which to discard. Another function of dreaming is to process situations, both those that already happened and those that may be coming up (i.e., dreaming about a test that you have the next day).

In a very interesting piece of research, Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, refers to dream sleep as “healing sleep” and “overnight therapy.” He suggests that during REM sleep, our brains are clear of the stress chemical noradrenaline. As such, in a dream state, our brains are in a safer space to re-process upsetting information and heal (Walker, M. P., & van der Helm, E. (2009).

Additionally, there are also categories of dreams. Some of these include “day residue”, which is simply an influence of the previous day’s sensory intake. “Lucid dreams” where people are aware they are dreaming and can actively control what happens next (i.e., fly where you want in your dream). Also, recurrent dreams are very common, often related to stress or anxiety. These may include teeth falling out, being naked in public, being late/unprepared, falling, or being unable to get away from danger.

So, What About Nightmares?

Nightmares are categorically different from dreams in one key way…

To finish the full post link here: “Dreams, Nightmares, & Mental Health”

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