Visions of Sugar Plums: What Dreams Say About Sleep Quality
Does having good things in your dreams mean that your sleeping better? Many people associate good dreaming with good sleep, but the act of dreaming itself doesn't say much about our sleep quality. However, the little details of our dreams can give us a window to see how our bodies work during sleep.
The Science of Sleep
As we all know, sleep is divided into stages: non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and REM. In each stage, the brain emits different wave frequencies. During the non-REM stages we go from nodding off to our brain slowing to rate where it's nearly shut off. After about 70 minutes of non-REM sleep, we experience our first period of REM for about five minutes. This cycle repeats around five times over the course of a night.
As the night progresses, our non-REM cycles shorten while the REM period grows, giving us 40 minutes of REM sleep right before we wake up. Quality sleep is when we allow for our bodies to fully move through the non-REM and REM stages uninterrupted.
Dreaming of a White Christmas... Or Anything Else
Regardless of the quality of our sleep, we will always dream. Although scientists don't know much about why we dream, we have learned about what our physical bodies are doing during dreams.
Dreaming occurs during REM sleep and researchers have found that the more REM sleep is interrupted or cut short, the more intense and vivid dreams become. This is called REM rebound, a state where we dream at an increased rate and our brain activity eerily resembles being awake.
“When someone is sleep deprived we see greater sleep intensity, meaning greater brain activity during sleep; dreaming is definitely increased and likely more vivid,” says neurologist Mark Mahowald of the University of Minnesota and director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis.
This explains the crazy, lifelike dreams after pulling an all-nighter or a couple of restless nights. Your REM sleep is acting up and taking it out on you. Scientists are still trying to explain REM rebound and don't quite understand why our REM sleep seeks revenge if cheated of its designated time each night.
Being Well-Rested is Key
A way to keep tabs on your sleep quality is to note if you wake up feeling rested. If you're jolted awake by a dream and feel emotionally or physically exhausted, you likely need to give your REM sleep a little extra love.
Be sure to adjust your sleep schedule to allow yourself enough time to fully go through your sleep cycle. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night in order to be well-rested and healthy.
No matter if your dreams are full of sugar plums or snowfall, be sure you’re getting the sleep you need in order to fully enjoy your time with family and friends.
Sleep better, and dream happy!