7 Things Your Dreams Can Tell You About Your Sleep Quality
Depending on how well you slept, you might be more likely to have certain types of dreams than others. Whether you had a vivid dream, and woke up remembering every bizarre detail, or sat up in bed sweating after a nightmare, it can all help reveal the quality of your sleep. And possibly even various other disorders and underlying issues.
While not all dreams types are created equal, they share the same characteristics. "Dreams are a collection of involuntary thoughts, visual images, and emotional responses that occur during sleep," Rose MacDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "Dreams usually happen three to five times each night during REM sleep."
During a typical night, you're likely to go through four different stages of sleep, with each cycle lasting about 90 minutes. "REM is the last stage of a sleep cycle, preceded by stage one (light sleep), stage two (when both the heart rate and body temperature decrease), and stages three and four (grouped together and often referred to as slow-wave sleep, or SWS)," wellness consultant Stephanie Gailing, MS, tells Bustle.
Depending on things like your physical health, mental health, and even how deeply you're sleeping, you might be more likely to have certain types of dreams, than others. And knowing what to look for can be one way to figure out a little bit more about your sleeping self.
Read on below for the various types of dreams, as well as what the experts say they might reveal about your overall quality of your sleep.
1. You Don't Dream At All
While it can be difficult to remember dreams once you wake up, if it feels like you rarely dream at all, it could point to a disorder that causes restless sleep, known as sleep apnea.
"This is because sleep apnea tends to be worse during REM sleep (the stage in which we have the most vivid dreams) so this stage of sleep becomes very disrupted with frequent awakenings, thereby preventing dreaming," Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, tells Bustle.
Again, you might be someone who can't recall their dreams, even though you did have them. But if your dreamlessness is accompanied by other signs of sleep apnea, such as loud snoring or waking up tired, it may require a closer look.
2. You Dream As Soon As You Fall Asleep
Dreaming the moment you fall asleep could, in some cases, be a sign of a disorder called narcolepsy. "Narcolepsy sufferers fall directly into REM sleep, normally the fourth stage of sleep, and may spend more time experiencing vivid dreams," MacDowell says.
If you tend to wake up after a dream, even though you've only just gone to sleep, this may explain why — especially if you have other signs of narcolepsy, such as persistent daytime sleepiness.
3. You Have Extremely Vivid Dreams
Vivid or bizarre dreams — including the kind that stick in your mind long after you've woken up — are common among creative people and those who meditate right before bed, MacDowell says. And they can also occur when you have a fever.
As MacDowell says, "Elevated body temperature can cause neurotransmitters in the brain to transmit information at a faster rate, causing vivid dreams or even hallucinations."
But because vivid dreams can also trigger startling or negative emotions, MacDowell says they may indicate you didn't sleep as well as you thought.
4. You Lucid Dream
Have you ever been asleep and dreaming, but still somehow in control of your thoughts? This is known as lucid dreaming, and it can be a sign you're under a lot of stress — and thus probably not sleeping very well.
"In lucid dreams, consciousness and dreaming overlap, creating a sense of awareness during sleep," MacDowell says. "Lucid dreaming appears to happen during transitions from one stage of sleep to another, or from REM sleep to waking up. Lucid dreams are associated with high levels of activity in the brain, which can sometimes result from stress or anxiety."
If you keep having lucid dreams, let a doctor know. They might want to suggest ways to help you cope with excess stress and anxiety, so you can get better sleep.
5. You Experience Nightmares
If you have frequent nightmares, MacDowell says there's a good chance you aren't sleeping well, since these types of dreams tend to cause sudden waking. But they can also be a sign of a deeper issue.
"Nightmares are experienced by 80 percent of post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, and may be an indicator of psychological trauma," MacDowell says. "Anxiety and depression are two common causes of nightmares, which can also be an early sign of mood disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder."
If you experience nightmares on a regular basis, let a doctor know so they can address the underlying cause.
6. You Have Recurring Dreams
Recurring dreams are also associated with an unresolved emotional issue or trauma, MacDowell says. And unfortunately, that can impair your ability to sleep.
"Recurring dreams don’t always indicate poor quality sleep, but may if they result from an emotional disturbance or trauma that causes frequent awakening or stress," she says.
For issues you've yet to overcome, therapy can help you learn how to address them, in a comfortable environment. You might find that processing through these emotions leads to better sleep.
7. You Have Multiple Dreams
If you have more than one dream per night, it could be a sign you went through multiple sleep cycles, and woke up momentarily after each one — which is when you're the most likely to remember what they were all about.
And yet, since REM is a part of each sleep cycle, Gailing says it's possible to have multiple dreams per night, even if you don't remember them.
Again, everyone is different when it comes to the types of dreams they have. And just because you experience these dreams doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem.
If you're concerned, you can let a doctor know about things like nightmares, recurring dreams, or a total lack of dreams. But as long as you wake up feeling refreshed, you might want to consider your dreams just another — somewhat mysterious — part of life.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.