Have you ever woken up from a dream and wondered whether your dream served a purpose or had a hidden meaning? You may have heard from some cultures that dreams could be visions for the past or future, and some religions do believe it’s a medium for spiritual entities to speak to us. But what does science say about dreams? Is it just an illogical amalgamation of meaningless junk that your brain does for no reason? Well, this may surprise you, but scientific studies have shown that your dreams can say a lot about your health.
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When do dreams occur?
Every day, we spend about 2 hours dreaming. If you do the math, that means you’re spending 6 years of your lifetime dreaming! During this period, did you notice that your dreams always occur at a certain stage in your sleep? Well, although dreams can happen at any stage in your sleep, they’re more intense and vivid in the final hours of sleep when you go through long REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep episodes. This is typically in the morning which is why alarm clocks sometimes wake us up in the middle of a dream. REM sleep occurs throughout the night in episodes that get gradually longer. These episodes are the longest during the final third of sleep.
Why do we dream?
While researchers are still debating about the purpose of dreams, there is mounting scientific evidence that links dreaming to memory and emotional processing. There are many theories regarding the purpose or meaning of dreams with some stating that dreams make us ready for situations that may occur in real life by making us go through different scenarios. Another theory proposed by renowned 20th-century neurologist Freud suggests that dreams provide a path to your subconscious mind and often represent a wish that you couldn’t fulfil in real life. While these theories are all debatable and haven’t been confirmed, dreams could provide an insight into your general health.
What dreams mean for your health
While the exact benefits of dreaming are unknown, dreaming is almost always a good sign. This is because dreams usually occur during REM sleep which has been proven to have countless benefits such as better memory, mood, learning and emotional processing. Some even say that it's the most important stage of sleep. Dreams show that you’re getting good quality sleep. Cutting down on sleep may interrupt REM sleep that occurs for longer episodes in the final third of sleep. There’s no way to get more REM sleep other than getting the full hours of sleep which is typically 7-9 hours for adults.
You might be wondering, do scary dreams mean anything? Nightmares may, in fact, indicate potential physical or mental illnesses. While having nightmares every once in a while could be a normal thing, nightmares could be a form of hallucination and could reflect certain mental conditions. Studies have shown that nightmares occur more frequently in patients with schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease than they do in the general population. If you experience frequent nightmares, a doctor may be able to help pinpoint the underlying cause.