There’s a saying in the Caribbean that states; if you eat too late you’ll either have nightmares or really messed up dreams. I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s the gist of it. I’ve always thought it was a bit of an old wives tale, but many of us have experienced a vivid dream at least once or twice in our lives–and I’m guessing that it had little to do with food consumption. But have you ever wondered what causes our dreams? Why our dreams sometimes seem so real, weird or at times disturbing? According to researchers at the National Sleep Foundation, dreams are the way the brain incorporates memories, solves problems, deals with emotions stressors and anxiety. As such, dreams are essential for our emotional health and well-being and can act as an indicator that there might be an issue with our health.
While the occasional nightmare is not necessarily a bad thing, frequent nightmares can be a signal that something is off with our health. Sleep apnea, an irregular heartbeat, chronic stress and fear-based thinking can all act as nightmare triggers. Regular nightmares can also be attributed to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Dreams About Being Attacked
Thankfully I’ve only experienced maybe one or two of these types of dreams. Similar to nightmares, these dreams can indicate a feeling of a loss of control in some area of our lives or a fear of losing control. They are often centered around internal conflict that we might be feeling.
Vivid dreams are those dreams that you swear were real when you wake up from them. We experience vivid dreams for any number of reasons, depending on individual situations. People often find that their thoughts from the day invade their dreams. We usually experience the most vivid dreams during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. There are two basic types of sleep: REM and non-REM–and we cycle through both stages typically throughout a night. Non-REM sleep, which lasts for several minutes, is the changeover between being awake and falling asleep. This is the first stage of the sleep cycle. Stage two is non-REM sleep, which is a period of light sleep before entering deep sleep. Stage three is also non-REM sleep. Without this period of deep sleep we tend to experience lethargy in the morning. Stage four is REM sleep, which occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. People dream when they are in REM sleep. During this time, the eyes move quickly from side to side under closed eyelids, and the arms and legs muscles become paralyzed. This is commonly known as sleep paralysis and prevents us from acting out our dreams.
When we dream very vividly it could mean a few things: we are under a lot of stress, are on medication–such as anti-depressants, have consumed too much alcohol, are anxiety-ridden, mentally ill or just sleep deprived.
Erotic dreams, particularly if you’re an adolescent, can be due to certain hormonal changes. I don’t have any sons and thankfully have never walked in on anything uncomfortable but it’s not unusual for young females to experience these types of dreams as well. For us adults, erotic dreams or dreams of a sexual nature, can indicate a surge in creativity. Probably not the word you thought I was going to use but it’s true.
Lucid Dreams & Astral Projection
Are often used interchangeably but are slightly different. Lucid dreaming is when the conscious mind wakes after we fall asleep and realize that we’re actually dreaming. This is probably the most frequent type of dream that I experience. In a lucid dream we can control outcomes, behaviours etc. which is probably why I actually like them.
Astral projection–which I actively try to experience, can be best described as an out of body experience. Essentially, astral projection begins with an experience of leaving the body and consciously observing it from a detached perspective. Oftentimes it feels like we’ve left our bodies and are flying to various other locations. Astral projection can be scary for some in the sense that sleep paralysis has to be induced in order for it to occur.
Regardless, of the types of dreams we may experience, most of us just want to have restful night sleeps. The best way to ensure this happens is by incorporating healthy habits like exercise, meditation, good nutritional habits and stress management techniques.