Vivid Dreams: Causes and Tips
written by sleep expert Lauren Hall
Vivid Dreams: Everything You Need To Know:
On average, a healthy adult spends roughly two hours a night dreaming, which is roughly one-quarter of our whole night’s rest– if you get 8 hours of sleep per night. Many people don’t remember the dreams they have, but those who experience vivid dreams may wake up with clear memory of their dream.
But what is a vivid dream anyway, and what do they mean?
Vivid dreams tend to involve realistic or clear dream content. During a vivid dream, you can experience feelings of joy and comfort. You may even wake up wishing that you could return to the dream, as vivid dreams can be fantastical and leave your dream conjuring the dream scenario.
Vivid dreams can be joyful and pleasant dreams, but they can also be upsetting and disturbing and may even cause nightmares which can interfere with the quality of sleep. The other three dream types are bad dreams/nightmares, recurring dreams, and normal dreams.
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We often experience vivid dreams or intense dreams during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. This is because the brain waves are as active and, if not more active during the REM sleep phase than when awake, so those who experience vivid dreams compare it with some realism.
Today I am going to run through everything you need to know about vivid dreaming, why vivid dreams occur, and even more vivid dreams content. So stay tuned. You won’t want to miss this.
What Is Vivid Dreams?
So what are vivid dreams? And are they bad for your health? Vivid dreams are intense dreams that linger in your mind; they feel like real-life memories because the events that happen in these dreams almost feel real. After waking up from a vivid dream, you can even recall such dreams in detail.
Vivid dreams are so intense that they can affect your mental health and well-being, which can lead to sleep disorders. Vivid dreams can be quite soothing or scary, mysterious or helpful, realistic or fantastical.
Sometimes we will wake up having no idea what we just dreamed about, while other times we can recall our dreams as they were so intense; if you’re able to recall the dream clearly, then this is a clear sign that you were having a vivid dream as they closely relate to real-life events.
What Causes Vivid Dreams?
There are a few causes for vivid dreams, and they tend to occur when in the REM sleep stage. There are four stages of sleep, but these four stages of sleep can be broken down into two– Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.
Despite dreaming being able to occur in all sleep stages, it is more common and vivid while your body is in the REM sleep stage. REM sleep stages occur for longer periods on the second half of the night, which is where vivid dreams are more likely to occur.
There are many factors that can contribute to vivid dreams; while some may be normal and natural causes, others you may need to seek a doctor.
Fragmented sleep can increase the likelihood of vivid dreams or remembering a dream more vividly, especially if you wake up after REM sleep. Vivid dreams tend to occur during the REM sleep stage, so if you wake up during the stage, you are more likely to remember the dream, especially if you recall it after.
For those who suffer from vivid nightmares, this may not be a good thing as when you wake up from a nightmare; you might struggle to fall back asleep again; this disrupts your sleep cycle and stages of sleep, which can lead to sleep deprivation and fatigue during the day.
I would recommend speaking to a doctor or sleep specialist to see if there is something that will trigger vivid dreams and how to treat vivid dreams.
When someone is sleep-deprived, there is a greater sleep intensity, so brain activity during your sleep is elevated. Dreaming is significantly increased, and in most cases, sleep deprivation will trigger intense dreams and vivid dreams.
This is because there is much research to suggest that those suffering from sleep deprivation sleep disorder tend to spend longer in the REM sleep stages and experience increased dream intensity the following night after feeling sleep deprived.
Those who suffer from their mental health, such as anxiety during the day, tend to experience vivid dreams when going to sleep at night. In most of these cases, these dreams are quite upsetting and can be described more as nightmares as well as vivid dreams.
For those with post-traumatic stress disorder tend to experience vivid dreams but recurring vivid dreams after traumatic events. This may be a way of your mind dealing with the event, but for many people, it can be very traumatic. Many people suppress trauma into their subconscious, which tends to come up when they dream.
Treatments for nightmare disorder or vivid dreams tend to be talk therapy to help counteract negative thinking, stress, and anxiety. This is because stress, anxiety, and negative thinking can worsen nightmares as your brain will attempt to repair these connections in the night, causing nightmares.
Talk therapy tends to consist of reducing worries and fears, including those that arise in nightmares; this can help many patients reframe their emotional reaction to negative imagery instead of trying to suppress these thoughts into your subconscious.
Certain medications can affect the vividness of dreams. Some antidepressants, in particular, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), can increase the vividness of their dreams when they are recalled.
But why do antidepressants cause vivid dreams? Well, this is because it increases the number of neurotransmitters in the brain, causing this vividness.
Other medications can also cause vivid nightmares, such as beta-blockers, which are a treatment for high blood pressure. While they counteract blood pressure, they also affect how the brain responds to the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which causes these vivid dreams.
Other medications like treatments for Parkinson’s also cause vivid dreams due to the increase of dopamine.
Many sleep disorders like narcolepsy can cause vivid dreams because it is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. Those with narcolepsy tend to experience vivid dreams that are often bizarre and disturbing.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that blurs the line between sleep and wakefulness; those who suffer from this condition tend to feel very sleepy and fatigued during the day. This can include sleep attacks where the person falls asleep and experiences a sudden loss of muscle during the day.
Those with narcolepsy tend to fall into REM sleep much faster than a healthy individual; they can even experience vivid dreams while taking a short nap during the day because REM occurs shortly after falling asleep, rather than in the second half of the night.
So when they are dreaming, they are aware that they are dreaming and may even have control of their dreams, but they cannot leave the dream state.
Vivid dreams and nightmares tend to occur during pregnancy, and in particular, it comes hand in hand with stress. Near the end of pregnancy, many women feel anxious and stressed about the delivery and parenting (which is completely understandable), and this can cause an increase in vivid dreams.
Fluctuations in hormones can also cause insomnia and sleep disturbances throughout the night, which can result in vivid dreams.
What Do Vivid Dreams Mean?
In most cases, vivid dreams are harmless; they may be a result of things like stress, pregnancy, or something as simple as the medications you are taking. But in some cases, they can be a key indicator of an underlying health condition.
In rare cases, vivid dreams can be a sign of depression and schizophrenia, but this is unlikely. Those who suffer from these conditions do tend to also suffer from vivid dreaming, especially for schizophrenia, because there is an increased amount of dopamine in the brain.
In other rare cases, vivid dreams can also be related to physical illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. But this is not the case for most vivid dreams, so they are not much to worry about. If you have any cause for concerns, then speak to a doctor or sleep specialist.
Are Vivid Dreams Bad?
In most cases, vivid dreams are not any cause for concern. However, there is much ambiguity around dreaming, and vivid dreaming in particular as researchers do not fully understand what causes dreams and the meaning of dreams, let alone vivid dreams.
Dreams are a natural part of emotional processing and help with memory formation as they occur in the REM stage, which is key for brain cognition and memory creation. Vivid nightmares, however, are a whole other story, especially if they are frequent.
Vivid nightmares can be frightening and unsettling; those who experience nightmares may struggle to fall back asleep easily afterward, which leads to a knock-on effect on the stages of sleep and the sleep cycle. This then causes people to feel fatigued and exhausted the next day.
Nightmare disorder is a sleep disorder in which nightmares interfere with getting a good night’s rest. Those who suffer from the nightmare disorder struggle to get sufficient sleep which can lead to problems with both your mental health and physical health, so it is best to speak to a doctor in this case.
How To Have Vivid Dreams:
There are a couple of ways that you can help promote the natural creation of vivid dreams; you can do this before you fall asleep or when falling asleep:
- Keeping A Dream Journal: Have a journal or app on hand to keep track of your dream content; writing your dream content down as soon as you experience it can help you to remember the whole dream and not forget a few minutes later. Most people who document dreams tend to leave a piece of paper by their bed.
- Reduce Intake Of Alcohol: Now, while alcohol can help you fall asleep, you tend to bounce between the first two sleep stages after inducing alcohol. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, so reducing the intake of alcohol to not having any at all can help promote more vivid dreams.
How To Stop Vivid Dreams & Nightmares:
For those who suffer from vivid dream sleep, and in particular vivid nightmares, then there are a few ways you can prevent vivid dreams from occurring so you can have more of a restful sleep instead of intense dreaming.
One of the best ways to reduce vivid nightmares is to improve sleep hygiene. If you’re not sure what sleep hygiene is, it is not what you may originally think. Sleep hygiene includes improving sleep-related habits and the bedroom environment.
Having healthy sleep hygiene can help make your nightly rest more predictable, so instead of getting a fragmented night’s rest, you can sleep soundly through the night; this also prevents having bad dreams.
Setting a consistent sleep schedule will actually make a world of difference for improving your quality of sleep, for example, falling asleep and waking up at a similar time both on weekdays and weekends, and setting half a sleep routine before bed can improve sleep quality massively.
Try to limit alcohol before bedtime, and eliminating noise and light disruptions can allow you to achieve an uninterrupted sleep and promote the natural cycle of your circadian rhythm and ultradian rhythms (sleep cycle).
If you struggle to fall asleep on day to day basis and think you might suffer from a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, it is important to talk to a sleep specialist or doctor who can recommend a treatment plan such as sleep medicine to help promote your natural sleep cycle.
Just creating a sleep routine and understanding sleep can help promote a healthy sleep cycle, allowing you to sleep deeply and achieve the most nourishing and rejuvenating night’s rest.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about vivid dreaming, in most cases, vivid dreaming is not a cause for concern as it occurs when you are in a deep sleep, but frequent vivid dreaming, in particular nightmares, may be an indication of an underlying condition.
There are many treatments to help those who suffer from vivid nightmares, such as talk therapy to counteract negative thinking, which has been proven to help those who suffer from realistic dreams and nightmares.
Dreams will forever be fascinating!
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