Just when you thought you were ‘switching off’ for the night and giving your brain the rest it deserves, it kicks into gear creating an entirely new world full of dreams that can range from fun and fantastical to weird, worrying, sexy or scary. Sometimes, when you wake, your dream seemed so vivid that you’re surprised you get any rest at all.
So, the question remains…are your vivid dreams affecting the quality of sleep you get and making you feel like you can't sleep?
What are vivid dreams?
Dreaming is a completely normal part of your sleep cycle and happens more often than you think, whether you remember them or not. It is reported that we dream up to 6 times every night, with each dream lasting between 5 and 20 minutes.
Essentially, dreaming can happen at any point of the two main stages of sleep - rapid eye movement (REM sleep) and non-REM sleep. However, it is thought that dreams experienced during REM sleep are more vivid and better remembered. This is possibly because REM cycles are typically longer and deeper in the morning before you wake.
Hence, a vivid dream is considered so intense that it evokes a response when you wake. This means you’re able to remember the dream and may have found it puzzling and enjoyable or disturbing and upsetting.
What causes vivid dreams?
We’ve all experienced a vivid dream that seems to stick in our memory, whether it be pleasant or scary. Even though vivid dreams can range from realistic to non-sensical, the general theory among scientists is that dreams reflect what is happening in your daily life, with research suggesting they are closely associated with memory. One study found that the brain mechanisms that happen during dreaming (and recalling dreams) are the same as when we make and recall memories while awake.
Therefore, it’s understandable that your dreams may become more vivid for a variety of reasons like lifestyle changes that disrupt your normal activities such as changing your exercise routine, eating habits, or sleeping patterns.
Dreams, particularly vivid dreams, occur during REM cycles, so the more REM sleep you get in a night the more dreams you’ll typically experience. However, there are certain factors such as stress, anxiety, pregnancy, sleep disorders, and medications that may specifically cause more vivid dreams.
Stress or anxiety
When you’re waking at 3am after a vivid, anxiety-ridden dream it probably has something to do with the stress you’re experiencing in everyday life. Being stressed is associated with poor sleep in general, which may in turn trigger more frequent dreams.
The obvious solution is to reduce the stress in your waking life, but we all know that is sometimes easier than it sounds, especially when you’re lying in bed wide awake as a result of your vivid dreams! However, an immediate solution may be practicing some simple deep breathing techniques.
Deep breathing activates your ‘relaxation response’. This is thought to be your body’s natural counter to the heightened ‘flight or fight’ response (which is often enhanced by prolonged daily stress). The relaxation response will help your muscles relax and slow your heart rate, making your chances of returning to a ‘sound’ sleep more likely.
We’ve all heard of (and possibly experienced) ‘baby brain’. And while we use it as an excuse to laugh-off a silly mistake, it’s not a myth! The hormones produced during pregnancy heighten emotional response and impact the way your brain processes information, which potentially results in more vivid dreams or nightmares. Some research suggests this heightened frequency of nightmares contributes to impaired sleep during pregnancy.
With sleep being a treasured commodity during pregnancy, the last thing you want are vivid dreams that keep you awake with unnecessary worry. While you can’t change your hormone response, you can ensure your sleep environment is set up to be conducive to drifting back into a sound sleep. The Sleep Foundation suggests keeping your room cool, dark and quiet as well as resisting the urge to pick up your phone through the night will help!
The last thing you want if you’re already suffering from insomnia or narcolepsy (inability to control sleep-wake cycles) is to be disrupted in the little sleep you’re getting by vivid dreams! But it seems that is exactly what occurs…
In a scientific review looking at dreaming in those with sleep disorders, researchers found that people with insomnia have heightened dream recall and their dreams reflect their worries from waking life. Additionally, people with narcolepsy experience more bizarre, scary, or negative dreams. Both of these conditions mean that the quantity and quality of sleep are already impacted, so it’s unclear whether the disrupted REM cycle is the cause or result of more vivid dreams but it supports the theory that waking-life issues are reflected in dreams!
The side effects of certain medications are generally discovered during clinical trials but are also registered when the medication goes to market through patient reporting. This is often how certain medications have been associated with more vivid dreams. These medications include many antidepressants, beta blockers, blood pressure medications, Parkinson’s disease drugs, and drugs to stop smoking.
If you’ve noticed taking certain medications are constantly causing disrupted sleep because of vivid dreams, be sure to report it to your doctor and discuss possible alternatives.
Is it normal to dream vividly every night and what are the side effects?
It is completely normal to have occasional vivid dreams. But if you’re having vivid dreams every night that you find emotionally disturbing and constantly disruptive to your sleep you may start to experience issues of daytime sleepiness, dramatic mood swings and a negative cycle of resisting sleep to avoid the vivid dreams.
We all feel tired or sleepy the day after a rough night of sleep. But Harvard Healthy Sleep suggests that excessive daytime sleepiness may be the result of narcolepsy, where vivid dreams are a common factor in disturbed sleep. It can result in a lack of focus, issues with concentrating and operating on ‘automatic’ with little thought…which can be dangerous if you’re driving a car or cooking!
Feeling grumpy can sometimes be an understatement when it comes to lack of sleep. If that lack of sleep is because of emotionally draining vivid dreams, your mental health can start to suffer, reportedly causing symptoms of depression or anxiety.
It’s only natural to want to avoid sleep when nightmares or vivid dreams cause you distress but resisting sleep can create a cycle that actually promotes the vivid dreams you’re wanting to avoid! Resisting sleep is common after traumatic events where vivid dreams can feel like you are reliving the pain over and over. Scientists believe that vivid dreams about traumatic experiences help to consolidate memories in order to learn from the situation but are often considered a coping mechanism to simulate different responses to the traumatic event. The good news is there are a number of therapies including desensitization and lucid dream (aware that you’re dreaming) practices that may help!
How are vivid dreams treated?
Given that you can’t control your vivid dreams, there is no quick fix for treating or ‘getting rid of’ vivid dreams. What’s more important is focusing on what you can control, especially around getting ‘quality’ deep sleep.
Setting up a bedtime routine where you ‘unplug’ from electronic devices at least half an hour prior to bed, lowering or dimming lights before bed, avoiding heavy meals or lots of fluid right before bed and including Happy Mammoth’s NEW ULTRA POTENT Deep Sleep Mode will set you up for a restful night.
While we can’t promise that you’ll ditch the vivid dreams, we can say that with the all-natural ingredients in Deep Sleep Mode you will speed up your ability to fall asleep by 36% and help you wake feeling energized and focused.
The bottom line
Having vivid dreams is not necessarily a negative thing and shouldn’t be impacting the quality of your sleep on a regular basis. But if you’re experiencing ongoing vivid dreams that cause distress or disrupt your sleep cycles then taking measures to ensure you have a good bedtime routine, a healthy sleep environment and natural sleep ‘helpers’ like breathing techniques and Happy Mammoth’s Deep Sleep Mode you should be back into a rested, dreamy sleep state in no time!
If you dream of ways to improve your health, then try taking our Free Comprehensive Health Assessment to get a full recommendation of the best products to take for your specific needs!