There are some among us who can describe - to the tiniest detail - the images that flicker before their eyes once they fall fast asleep.
Those bizarre scenarios in which they are a talking fish bowl one minute and the next, they are talking to a sunflower about the intricacies of an interlock stitch.
Or, those nightmarish experiences of being chased, falling down, missing a deadline, and a myriad of other all-to-lifelike scenarios that can wriggle their way into our subconscious when we sleep.
Which just goes to show that, sometimes, to sleep, perchance NOT to dream is a better option, to paraphrase Hamlet. But the fact remains that we all dream, whether or not we can remember those dreams once we wake.
On average, we dream for about 2 hours every night, at every stage of our sleep cycle. However, we most vividly remember the dreams that occur in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, which, some scientists propose, is linked to memory enhancement, creativity, and survival skills.
Unfortunately, there’s still much that we don’t know about the connection between dreams and sleep.
Is it possible that dreams affect how well we sleep through the night: how much rest we get, and how invigorated we feel in the morning?
Or is the quality of our sleep that affects what we dream about?
We don’t have all the answers but we did do some digging. Here’s what we found out.
Why Do We Dream At All?
Before moving onto the connection between sleep quality and dreams, let’s talk about why we dream at all.
On the face of it, it is a bit bizarre, wouldn’t you agree?
Think about it - dreams are hallucinations that happen when we’re most vulnerable. During sleep, we’re not aware of our surroundings. We can’t react to most outside happenings, and we can hardly move. Still, dreams provide us with an opportunity to explore things that are sometimes beyond what we can imagine when we are fully conscious.
The scientific community is still not clear on the real function of dreams. What they mostly agree on is that dreaming is useful for several distinctly different things.
Therapeutic dreaming - a lot of what we dream about is autobiographical in nature. We often see ourselves in different situations that have a loose connection to our waking reality. Because of that, some therapists propose that dreams are actually therapeutic in nature, allowing us to make connections that we can’t when we’re up and about.
Flight or fight training - as we already mentioned, dreams can be a useful practice tool, as well. The amygdala, the part of the brain that’s linked to the flight or fight response, is very active during sleep. This has led some scientists to propose that dreams are actually how our brain prepares us for the unexpected (the rapid eye movement associated with REM sleep is thought to be practice for when we are in danger and need to soak up as much of our surroundings as possible).
Memory training - a lot of scientists have tried to make a case for the profound connection between sleep and memory. Some have succeeded - this particular study has found that sleeping helps with memory retention. Dreams, on the other hand, are thought to help block out external stimuli that might otherwise interfere with this memory-retention process.
- Creativity enhancement - everyday activities bog down our mind and inhibit creativity for most people. A lot of artists credit dreams for the inspiration for their greatest works - John Lennon claimed that about his song “Dream” and McCarthy for the melody to “Yesterday”. There’s a body of research that suggests that imagery is key to creativity - the most successful painters are those who can create vivid representations in their mind’s eye. And, that might be where dreams (and sleep) come into the creative process.
As you can see, there’s nothing really tangible about dreams coming out of the scientific community. And, it kind of makes sense - dreams are nothing if not intangible.
Does Dreaming Happy Equal Better Sleep Quality?
Since research in dreams is not in the focus of the scientific community (just yet) it’s difficult to make a connection between them and sleep quality. The jury is still out on whether or not dreams affect sleeping in any way at all.
We do know, however, that dreams do not change the architecture of sleep in any way. This means that stages of sleep remain uninterrupted and that brainwave activity is not particularly affected whether you dream or not.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who sleep well often report happier dreams. From our own experiences (and those of our customers), sleeping without interruptions results in dreams that are not chaotic - no bizarre stuff, no falling into the abyss, and no wild chases we can’t seem to finish, no matter how hard we try.
Poor sleepers, on the other hand, tend not to associate positive emotions with their dreams.
Which leads us to our next question:
Do nightmares affect the quality of sleep?
They most certainly do.
While benign dreams, in and of themselves, might not have any clear connection to the quality of sleep, nightmares are different. They not only impact our sleep but can also interrupt it completely. How many times has a nightmare woken you up? Left you shivering and shaking, not able to go back to sleep like you normally would when awoken? Our guess is too many times.
Often after a nightmare, a person will feel as they have a really bad dream-induced hangover. This can have severe consequences the next day because you’re operating on less sleep than you normally would plus, you’re still shaken up from the experience.
Which Came First - Dreams Or Good Night’s Sleep?
From what we understand about dreams and sleep quality right now, this is a very difficult question to answer. There’s some evidence to suggest that quality sleep does produce better dreams - but, neurologically-speaking, dreams don’t affect brain activity (unless we’re talking about really ugly nightmares).
Who knows - maybe the mysteries of dreams are not ours to comprehend?
That said, while good dreams might not improve your quality of sleep, we know what will - our super cosy weighted blanket! The Calming Blanket has helped thousands of people get a good night’s rest, and it can help you, too.For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us on Facebook - our team is very good at promptly addressing all the questions sent through there. And, while you’re there, check out our awesome reviews to see what our loyal customers have to say about us!