It's the season of love, which means plenty of us are dreaming up some Valentine's Day ways to show our loved ones we care. But as heart day grows nearer, you may be wondering if your subconscious might serve up something a little more romance-flavored. Well, it turns out being in love can affect your dreams, and maybe not in the ways you think.
We all know the physiological clichés about love: It gives you butterflies in your stomach, it makes you flush, and it can even make your knees weak. These common physical reactions to love are signs that love actually does dig into the motherboard that is our body chemistry and — to put it bluntly — start yanking wires to and fro. Being around someone we're in love with fills our brain with oxytocin, aka the aptly named "love hormone." According to Lizette Borreli writing for Medical Daily, love also triggers a release of dopamine, which is "a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers," Psychology Today reports.
There's also evidence that the things we dream can affect how we behave in our waking hours, which means dreams and the day-to-day can start to feel a little cyclical. If you're feeling the love, check out these weird AF ways romance could be affecting your dreams.
1. You May Feel More Emotional
Dr. Patrick McNamara writing for Psychology Today says that love causing increased levels of oxytocin may "dramatically" influence the emotions we feel in dreams.
"If [oxytocin] influences social emotions in waking life there is no reason to believe it doesn't do so in dreams," McNamara explains. So if your dreams feel a little emotionally sharper, or if your dream self experiences stronger emotions, especially in social situations, it's likely you can say a big ol' thank you to your increased level of oxytocin.
2. You Might Have More Dreams About Sex
It may seem less than weird AF that if you're a person who experiences sexual attraction, being around someone you're in love with may cause you to have more sex dreams. But the increase in sex dreams may be a bit more complex than having the object of your affection on your mind. In fact, McNamara credits this change to oxytocin as well.
"[I]n normal waking life oxytocin is the hormone that mediates orgasm," McNamara writes. "It is very likely it does so in dreams as well."
3. It Can Stop You From Dreaming
Well, sort of. In fact, being in love can stop you from sleeping altogether, according to a study out of the University of Basel, Switzerland, that was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2007. In that study, teens who said they were in love "reported at least an hour less sleep a night than their romantically unattached peers," Lauren Martin wrote for Elite Daily.
Martin added that the levels of dopamine in our brains when we're "experiencing passionate love" are actually so intense, the "brain's pleasure centers go off" the same way they do when someone does cocaine. And like cocaine, intense, hormone-flushed love can give us a feeling of being on uppers, keeping us awake.
5. Your Nightmares May Change
According to McNamara, oxytocin therapy, where someone is given more oxytocin purposefully, may help lessen the severity of nightmares, and may also be useful for treating "selected sleep and dream disorders like depression and recurrent nightmare syndromes," McNamara reported. That means if being in love releases more oxytocin in your system, that may lessen the amount of nightmares you deal with.
But it turns out love's end might have even more of an effect on us. Researchers from Northwestern Medicine published a study, "Fear-Enhancing Effects of Septal Oxytocin Receptors," which showed that when love ends, oxytocin may help seal in the bad memories. Christopher Bergland writing for Psychology Today covered the study, saying that oxytocin could be" responsible for some of our most long lasting psychological pain, including the memories associated with a break up."
We can all agree that simply being in love can be weird AF on its own — but with these possible effects love may have on your dreams, things could get even weirder.