We all dream when we sleep. Far more than we may be aware of, as we often don’t remember our dreams on waking. We dream nightly, usually for around 2 hours, and usually only during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle.
REM sleep is one of the natural cycles includes in a ‘good night’s sleep’. Dreaming is a normal part of sleep and is thought to have several benefits to both our physical and psychological health.
However, dreams can be disturbing and disruptive, if they wake us often before morning, or frighten us. ‘Frequent dreaming’ (that wakes us, or that we remember on waking each morning) can be either be perceived as interfering with our sleep (even though it isn’t- we just remember the dreams), or it can in fact interfere with our sleep – to a lesser or greater extent.
Frequent and disturbing dreaming includes the following:
- Very intense, colourful dreams that occur night after night and are remembered on waking
- ‘Lucid dreams’ that seem to happen when the dreamer is not fully asleep’
- Bad dreams and nightmares that wake the sleeper, along with a sense of fear and panic.
- Night terrors – terrifying dreams that seems to be conscious experiences and are usually accompanied by the powerful perception of not being able to move
Causes of frequent dreaming include:
- Medications (e.g. antidepressants and blood pressure medications)
- Certain foods eaten at night
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Anxiety disorders
- Disturbances in the environment such as noise, temperature, and poor air circulation
- Conditions such as Sleep Apnea that wake sleepers while they are dreaming – leading to the perception that the dream has woken them
- Other sleep disorders
Intense dreams and nightmares that wake us are often symptomatic of disrupted sleep, rather than the cause of disrupted sleep.
However, bad dreams, nightmares and night terrors that wake us can cause considerable psychological distress, making it hard to fall asleep again. This can disrupt healthy sleep cycles and lead to poor quality sleep.
This can exacerbate the original causes of the frequent dreaming, creating a vicious cycle of frequent dreaming, waking, disrupted sleep cycles, anxiety, and daytime sleepiness.