Dreams must be very important, as we dream an average 1,460 hours a year! But why do we dream at all? Are dreams even ‘real’?
Many theories simply state that it is our brain managing memories. Although scientists still aren't completely sure, they believe dreaming is a result of our brain processing emotions, reflecting desires, and solving the problems in our lives through a series of thoughts and sensations.
Some people dream more than others, and some claim to be 'prone' to nightmares. But why? It appears that our dreams can be influenced by our habits/behaviours during the day.
Yes, what you eat before bed does influence your dreams - it’s not a myth!
Eating spicy foods and certain cheeses can cause indigestion, which makes you stir more as your stomach would be uncomfortable.This makes it more likely that you’ll remember a nightmare.
Big meals before bed act in a similar way. It means you are digesting food, using more energy, which creates more heat, stopping you from cooling down to the level where you are able to rest. A late night snack increases metabolism, which signals the brain to be more active. This will cause discomfort, leading to bad dreams.
I suggest eating big meals 2-3 hours before bed; but don’t go to bed on an empty stomach as hunger leads to dreaming about food!
The environment around you when you sleep can affect your dreams.
Our minds interpret the noise occurring around us whilst we sleep because there is a narrow window for sounds to get into your brain. For example, if you can hear music whilst sleeping, it is more likely you’ll dream about something music related.
Surprisingly, even smells have a significant impact on dreams. It is as simple as pleasant smells give you positive dreams, whilst horrible odors give you negative dreams.
Shocking, I know! This might be considered a benefit for those who play Xbox or PlaysStation. Video game players are able to be more aware, which makes it easier to control the unconscious mind. Apaprently this makes it more likely for 'gamers' to have lucid dreams (where you are able to control your dreams whilst asleep).
Some of you might be asking: Why do I have nightmares? What causes my bad dreams? So here's a lost of causes and tips for reducing nightmares:
Cause: Depression and anxiety. If you have suicidal tendencies in your dreams, it may be because of stress, conflict, fear and emotional problems.
Remedy: To help with this, do regular exercise and yoga to reduce stress and anxiety. Make sure your bedroom is a tranquil environment, and not associated with stressful activities to help you sleep better. Sweet smells, like having flowers beside your bed, can help you have positive dreams.
Cause: Drugs and alcohol. These disrupt the normal sleep cycle and leads to fragmented sleep. It is also said that alcohol dependency causes negative dreams.
Remedy: To help with this, reducing your alcohol consumption could regulate your sleep cycle. Also, prevent drinking near bed time if you are prone to nightmares, especially because the substance remains in your system for more than 12 hours and disrupts your sleeping pattern.
Cause: Previous traumatic experiences. Your dreams could reflect this and replay in your mind if not solved.
Remedy: If this is a constant case, I suggest seeing a therapist.
Am I alone?
You may think that there must be something wrong with you if you keep on having the same nightmare over and over again, right? Worry not, because your dreams can have meanings.
People have similar dreams. The most common are being chased, and falling. Being chased in your dream can suggest that you are running away from a problem that needs to be solved, or alternatively there’s a threat in your waking life. If you experience falling in your dreams, it could symbolise insecurity or lack of support.
Nudity is also one of the most common dreams, which symbolising a struggle with revealing your true self to others. You may feel vulnerable and exposed to others.
So what is the cause of your wild dreams?
Usually, it is your way of living, the environment you are sleeping in, and/or how you take actions towards your problems and emotions. Since sleep and wakefulness are influenced by different neurotransmitter signals in the brain, foods and medicines that change the balance of these signals affect whether we feel alert or drowsy and how well we sleep.
A few changes in your life can prevent you from having those nightmares, and as a result, get a better night of sleep.
For more information on dreaming, and the stages of sleep, click here.