Everyone dreams, but some dreams we wake up not remembering at all, while other dreams stay with us for days afterward. The phenomenon of a vivid dream is a well-known occurrence to most people. Have you ever woken up startled from a dream and can’t shake off the feeling that it felt too real? This is a vivid dream. Vivid dreams can be useful, scary, fantastical, or mysterious. They can invoke feelings of comfort and happiness or frustration and sadness - depending on the dream.
In this post, we’ll go through the causes of vivid dreams, their side effects, and how they affect your sleep quality. This guide will help you get rid of nightmares and adopt better sleep habits that’ll positively impact your sleep.
Vivid dreams are intense dreams that feel realistic, and can even pull you out of deep sleep - they’re the dreams that stand out and are clearly remembered after waking up. These dreams occur during the deepest stage of sleep, rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep). This is one of the most important stages of sleep, and it lasts longer as the night progresses. It starts happening after 90 minutes of sleep and can last from 20 to 30 minutes. REM sleep is also known as active sleep because this is the stage where your brain is active and dreams happen.
Scientists aren’t sure why we experience dreams but they’ve concluded that it helps enhance the function of memory. Dreams help your brain store important memories and eliminate brain waste. Even though you can still dream in Non-rapid Eye Movement sleep, the stage before REM sleep, you will only experience vivid dreams through REM sleep.
Adults tend to experience vivid dreams more than children, research has shown that up to 25% of an adult’s sleep experience is in REM cycles, which means a higher chance of vivid dreams. You may experience bizarre dreams because of stress, a major life change, or even just by eating a heavy meal before sleeping.
The most common causes of vivid dreams include:
High stress levels during the day or experiencing symptoms of anxiety can lead to having nightmares when you sleep, a common type of vivid dream. Stress can be the result of relationship problems, school, work overload, feeling burnout, or any other problem in your life.
Major life changes, especially traumatic events, such as losing someone important or getting into an accident, can take a toll on your mental health and increase the risk of having vivid dreams. Research has shown that up to 90% of those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience intense dreams. While another study concluded that anxiety, depression, neuroticism, and acute stress were found to be associated with nightmare distress.
There are certain types of medications that contribute to vivid dreams, these include antidepressants, beta blockers, blood pressure medication, and Parkinson’s disease medicine. Lowering the dosage or quitting antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms, including vivid dreaming.
While other medicines like beta blockers can disrupt sleep quality in addition to causing nightmares. It is important to never go off your meds or change the dosage without consulting your physician to avoid any health risks.
Premenstrual syndrome, menstruation, and early signs of pregnancy can trigger physical and hormonal changes in the body. Vivid dreams are twice as common among pregnant women as they are nonpregnant women. The hormonal changes happening may strain your body and mind, which can result in disruptive sleep and vivid dreams.
Sleep disorders like insomnia or narcolepsy, which is sudden tiredness and sleep attacks during the daytime - can increase the chances of vivid dreams and abruptly waking up from deep sleep. Sudden changes in your sleep timings and not sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, whether it is by staying up late at night or jet lag, can also lead to intense dreams.
Additionally, a study concluded that those who suffer from sleep deprivation are likely to get longer REM sleep when they do get to deep sleep, and as a result, dream more vividly.
Sleep hygiene is the practice of sleep habits you do at night to promote sleep, a few bad sleep habits can disrupt your sleep and give you vivid dreams. For example, scientists state that eating before bed, especially heavy meals or spicy food, can interrupt your sleep. When you eat, your body’s metabolism works to digest the food and your temperature rises, which can ruin your sleep and give you night sweats. Foods that are high in carbs, dairy, or sugar, can harm sleep so it is best to limit your last heavy meal to a few hours before sleeping.
Another bad habit that should be avoided is binging TV before sleeping. It can be tempting to watch your favorite show as you unwind at the end of the day, however, it can ruin your sleep quality. The blue light that emits from screens postpones melatonin production, which is the sleep hormone that promotes sleep. But if the last thing on your mind is what you’re watching on TV, you’re likely to have strange dreams. This is specifically important for children because it can increase the chances of nightmares - they can easily get scared by things on TV.
Usually, having vivid dreams is not something to worry about, but if you’ve been having them more frequently or because of a traumatic event, this can be a sign of PTSD. It can also be because of a sleep disorder or medication you’re taking. If you’ve been having vivid dreams for a few weeks, it may be time to check with a doctor.
Side effects of vivid dreams can be similar to those of sleep deprivation, especially if it’s nightmares. This means you may experience daytime fatigue, mood swings, less concentration, and slow or unresponsive thinking. Lack of sleep can significantly affect everyday tasks like driving or even crossing the street, so it is important to get as much sleep as possible. Experts recommend that adults sleep from 7 to 9 hours every day.
It is normal to occasionally have vivid dreams. But if they’re happening more often and getting in the way of your daily tasks or affecting your mental state, then it may be time to make some changes in your sleep habits. It is best to avoid taking melatonin supplements or sleep medicine to try to promote sleep without consulting a doctor.
It is very important to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day will encourage a healthy circadian rhythm, which will affect your sleep quality and mental health. This may be difficult to do if you have a busy work schedule or are cramming for tests - but it is crucial to try and stick to a sleep schedule.
If you get hungry at night, opt for a sleep-inducing snack instead of a heavy meal, such as nuts, oatmeal, yogurt, or fruits. Consider trying to avoid spicy food, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and sugary foods before sleeping. It’ll disturb your sleep, which will lessen your sleep quality and promote bad dreams.
Additionally, you should prompt your sleep environment for sleeping. Ensuring that you sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room is one thing, but the quality of your mattress is another. A bad mattress won’t only make it hard to sleep, but it can wake you up at night because of issues like back pain or night sweats. You need to make sure you have the best mattress for comfort and support that’ll keep you in quality sleep all night long.
If you suffer from PTSD or regularly experience stress or anxiety, you need to actively work on inducing relaxation before bedtime. In many cases, being stressed is out of our control. However, you can practice relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditating, or simply going on an evening walk to try and clear your mind.
Make the time in your day, at least 15 minutes before bedtime, to focus on your mental health and do something that makes you feel calm and relaxed. Studies have shown that those with low levels of stress before sleeping tend to have more positive dreams.
Vivid dreams don’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. In fact, having a vivid dream every once in a while is a sign that you got a good night’s sleep! But if your vivid dreams are constant and distract you from being productive, then you should seek medical assistance.