Do dreams disrupt sleep? I frequently dream, and never feel rested in the morning.
No, dreams are an essential part of restful sleep. Everybody dreams (whether they remember dreams or not), apart from those with certain brain lesions. Sleep has four phases, as measured from electrical impulses in the brain. During the dreaming phase, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the eyes move under the lids. Many psychologists believe that dreaming occurs in non-REM sleep phases as well, but REM dreams are vivid and often bizarre, and those are the dreams we are likely to remember, especially when they occur in the phase just before waking. We cycle through the four phases every 90 to 100 minutes, and this cycling, including bouts of dreaming, is what supposedly makes sleep restful. But a person who has unhappy or disturbing dreams just before waking may not feel so rested.
Why do we dream?
There are scores of theories. Modern dream research began with Dr. Freud; he thought dreams represented unfulfilled wishes, rooted in unresolved childhood traumas that had been repressed. Carl Jung, another famous dream theorist, thought a dream was "the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul."
But modern researchers have put forth more prosaic ideas. Many consider dreams "meaningless biology" and regard them as repeated bursts of electrical activity from the primitive brainrandom stimuli that the brain transposes into bizarre images. Another idea, dismaying to many researchers, is that dreams are simply psychological garbagedebris that the brain needs to dispose of. According to this idea, dreams have no function: If they are useful, the reasoning goes, why don't we remember more of them? Still others have theorized that dreams are a holdover from a primitive time, when the threats and terrors characteristic of dreams might have been of some value in preparing early humans to battle wild beasts and the like.
The truth is that nobody knows why we dream or whether dreams are of any use. Dreams are stories we tell ourselves at night. That's a guess, rather than a scientific statement, but may be as much as can be said.
How can I remember my dreams?
Some people remember, and retell, their dreams regularly. But most of us forget the events of the night, including dreamsand there's no reason to fish for your dreams unless you want to. If so, remind yourself before you fall asleep that you want to remember. Keep a pad and pen or a small tape recorder by your bed, and record everything as soon as you wake. It may help to write down the day's events in a journal before you fall asleep. Such stratagems are said by therapists to be helpful in recalling dreamsbut there's no guarantee. Furthermore, when you recall and retell a dream, you tend to make it more sensible and rational. You edit and revise, fill in the gaps. There's no way to capture a dream while it happens.
What is a nightmare?
Nightmares are common among adults and children. Up to 10% of us have nightmares at least once a month, it's thought. Real-life stressjob loss or a death in the familycan cause nightmares. A high fever, illness, or medications can cause bad dreams, and so can suddenly stopping certain medications. If you wake up in terror, it may help to tell someone your nightmare. Get up and walk around if necessary. Don't scold yourself if your nightmare was grisly or replete with X-rated scenes. Dreams do not predict your actions, necessarily reveal your deepest wishes, or accurately describe your past. They are, as we have said, a mystery.