Dream sleep: is dreaming a sign of good sleep quality?
Does dream sleep equal good sleep? Or is a good night’s sleep just about getting those 7-9 hours of shut-eye and calling it a day?
Well, yes, and no. Dream sleep is fascinating (and just a little bit complicated)… Let’s explore.
Why do we dream?
During certain stages of sleep, our minds are actively sorting through important memories, things we’ve learnt (even getting rid of unwanted memories), and untangling complicated thoughts and feelings.
Our most memorable dreams occur the most vividly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, our fifth stage of sleep. During this stage (while we’re conjuring up subconscious stories of fantasy narratives in our dreams), our body regulates our metabolism, blood pressure, brain functions, and other aspects important to our health.
Is dream sleep a sign of good sleep?
REM sleep is one of the most important stages of sleep. Because REM sleep and dream sleep stem from the same sleep cycle (and promote a plethora of benefits), your snoozing-self can fully cycle through these important revival functions, enabling you to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
But, here’s the catch. Just because you’ve had a good dream doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve had good sleep. Because we measure good sleep on both quality and quantity (which is why getting an uninterrupted 7-9 hours of sleep is important), it’s possible to dream without cycling through all 5 stages of sleep.
In some cases, depending on how exhausted you are, you can skip sleep cycles and fall immediately into REM sleep (lucid dreamers will often go straight to REM sleep). However, this means that you’re depriving your body of the restorative functions that the other 4 stages of sleep play in your sleep health.
The impact of dream sleep on daily life
You’ve probably heard this before (and by now it’s a no-brainer), but the type of sleep we get directly impacts our waking life.
REM sleep plays a role in filtering and reading emotions. When you’re well-rested, you are more alert, more present, and can be more acutely aware of your surroundings. This plays a part in your communication with other people, as your refreshed brain signals can recognise facial expressions, read tone, and construct more articulate responses.
But that’s not all. You’ve heard the saying “sleep on it”? As REM sleep helps with memory retention and dreams help with identifying and sorting through emotional scenarios, this can help you make more informed decisions during the day.
Remembering your dreams
Do you often wake up knowing you had a dream but can’t remember it? Remembering your dreams has little to do with your sleep quality and more to do with your waking life, gender (yup! that plays a part too), and lifestyle.
- If you suffer from anxiety, you are more likely to remember your dream as chances are you woke up in the middle of it.
- The same goes for nightmares; our subconscious is actively trying to end the narrative, so it sends a signal to wake us.
- Are you on medication or suffer from sleep disorders? This could lead to interrupted sleeping patterns causing you to have lucid dreams (vivid dreams), which are highly memorable due to their realism.
- Dream recall is also more likely to occur in younger girls as they have a greater imagination.
- The same goes for creatively-minded people.
There are things you can do in your daily life and during your evening bedtime ritual to influence the type of (happy) dreams you’ll have (as well as encourage you to remember them).
During the day, avoid spicy foods and stimulating beverages, and get some exercise. Just before you go to bed, try a guided meditation, or listen to sleep music to relax your mind and invoke soothing thought patterns. Adding a few drops of lavender scent to your pillow can also help induce sleep.
So, is dreaming a sign of good sleep quality?
The jury is still out with this one, but what we do know is that if we get the recommended amount of sleep, allow our bodies to cycle through all 5 stages of sleep, and keep a healthy sleep routine, we will feel like we’ve woken up from a good dream.