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Have you ever woken up with a racing heart and anxiety only to realize the threat you were facing was only a dream? You’ve probably never felt more thankful that it wasn’t actually real life.
Maybe you were dreaming of fire, taking shelter from a tornado, or running away from someone only to find that your legs weren’t working properly.
Why do we run slow in dreams? Why do we have dreams in the first place and what purpose do they serve? The answers may be far beyond your wildest dreams, pun intended!
Turns out, these stressful dreams might actually help us prepare for the future.
While many details remain a mystery, our understanding of sleep and dreams has skyrocketed in recent years.
Imagine being able to watch a recording of your dream upon waking. With recent technological advances, this idea may become a reality sooner rather than later.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley may be well on their way to displaying our dreams on a digital screen like a movie.
With the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and computational models, they were able to recreate video clips that participants viewed based on their brain activity.
This is not only a huge leap for understanding dreams but for understanding the brains of people who may not be able to communicate verbally.
Imagine being able to step inside the brain activity of a coma patient, tap into your own memories, or relive the dream that you’re having a hard time recalling.
While we can’t rewatch our dreams just yet, we do know which regions of the brain light up during dreams: regions associated with fear.
Separate research done at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) found that the insula and cingulate cortex activate during dreams.
They also found that the longer someone felt fear in a dream, the less the fear areas of the brain activate when viewing negative or distressing images while awake.
Put simply, the brains of people who were recorded to have scary dreams were less overwhelmed in the face of a conscious threat during waking hours.
@somnifix #DidYouKnow these facts about #dreams 🥱 #dreamrecall #learnontiktok #sleep #anxiety #insomnia ♬ Fantasy (feat. O.D.B.) (Bad Boy Fantasy) - Mariah Carey
This supports the idea that dreams help us prepare for future threats by training us in our response.
If you keep dreaming of fire, you may be better equipped to escape one in real life. If you run slow in your dream, you may be able to flee danger more quickly during waking hours.
But do you need to remember all of your dreams in order for this “training” to work?
We’re more likely to remember our dreams if we wake up during REM sleep, which is named after the rapid eye movement that we experience during this stage.
We have the most vivid dreams during REM sleep, too.
During this phase, the thalamus lights up. This area of the brain is responsible for relaying sensory information, like hearing, taste, sight, and touch.
However, our ability to recall dreams dwindles as we get older. Many researchers believe that this may relate to the fact that older people have weaker memories in general.
Certain genes may also play a role in how much REM sleep some people get. As a result, those who spend less time in REM sleep may not have as many strange, vivid dreams as others.
Researchers have found that sleep is vital for memory processing, whether we consciously remember our dreams or not.
During dreams, our memories “migrate” from temporary storage areas to permanent locations in other parts of the brain.
Vital details become long-term memories, while memories or details deemed unnecessary are discarded. This makes memory recall easier (and explains why you can think more clearly after a snooze!)
That said, most of the memory organization happens during non-REM sleep.
As we move between all three stages of non-REM sleep, into REM sleep, and back through the cycle again throughout the night, some of the memories may get jumbled.
The theory here is that strange, vivid dreams that occur in REM sleep are a result of recent memories that were replayed and organized during non-REM sleep.
By the time you reach REM sleep where brain activity is low, you experience, feel, and see things that aren’t really happening as a result of the memory processing. In other words, you dream.
By helping us process the past, dreams help us better prepare for the future. For example, dreaming is vital for remembering important points for the presentation you have to give at work.
But dreams also help prepare us for the future by training us to stay alive.
Nonetheless, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Especially when faced with the terror of stuck legs or being unable to throw a punch when you need to defend yourself.
If dreams help prepare us to face danger in real life, why do we sometimes fail to escape threats?
Have you ever wondered why we run slow in dreams or why we can’t throw a proper punch or kick?
“Dream interpreters” may claim that this symbolizes self-doubt or a lack of confidence. Others think it’s because your body is trapped under a blanket during rest.
Sleep paralysis provides another explanation, where the mind gets stuck between a state of wakefulness and sleep.
So why can we still talk, walk, or do crazy things during dreams like leap and fly?
We may run slow in dreams due to a phenomenon called REM atonia. During dreams, our muscles become temporarily paralyzed.
This keeps us from acting out our dreams, which would be pretty dangerous and terrifying!
Running and punching aren’t the only things that we have a hard time doing in dreams when compared to real life.
Other common challenges include telling the time, tasting food, or reading. Most things about dreams don’t tend to make rational sense, overall.
You’re in an amusement park with your favorite celebrity. But how did you get there? And why are you there?
Our working memories don’t process sensory information well while we dream. Normally, we construct our perception by combining sensory information and the use of our working memory.
All of our senses send messages and signals to our brains that we piece together into one reality. During sleep, our brains try to do this same thing.
There’s just one small difference: there’s actually zero sensory input while we sleep. Our brains are trying to piece together stories and our environment from nothing but our thoughts and memories.
This may explain why if your phone rings in real life, you hear it ringing in your dream. Some of these theories explain strange sensations and experiences, but what about sheer terror?
Nightmares evoke anxiety, fear, terror, and other negative emotions, yet so many of us have them.
As a matter of fact, anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of adults say they experience nightmares from time to time, while up to eight percent of adults have a chronic problem with nightmares.
An existing sleep disorder, medical condition, or mental health disorder increases the risk of nightmares, along with some medications and supplements.
If you’ve had a distressing day, you may be more likely to have distressing dreams. When you need to sleep to function and feel better, nightmares throw a real wrench in the process.
In those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nightmares can not only feel distressing but they may be tied to a real-life trauma from the past.
Involuntarily reliving these events over and over only causes more mental anguish.
Researchers theorize that these nightmares occur because the brain is unsure of how to process and file such a traumatic event, keeping it fresh in the mind, thus leading to nightmares.
With proper treatment such as talk therapy or Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT), nightmares in those with PTSD decrease.
As we already learned, distressing dreams are proven to boost our threshold for handling challenging situations successfully. But what about when the distress starts to disrupt our lives?
Nightmares that happen so often that they disturb your sleep quality can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health.
You may even begin to fear sleep in worries that you’ll have another night terror, like dreaming of fire or another deadly situation.
Over time, this distress can cause sleep loss and daytime fatigue. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression, and more.
Nightmares include intense dread and fear, but other dreams may include incredible joy and happiness. Why are the highs and lows so extreme?
The amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for experiencing and responding to emotions, activates during dreams, which explains why they’re usually highly emotional.
There is also a proven link between obstructive sleep apnea and increased nightmares.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes physically blocked during sleep.
Nightmares and sleep apnea are linked, likely due to the lack of oxygen sleep apnea sufferers experience as a result of interrupted breathing.
When you don’t get enough oxygen, the body enters a stressed fight-or-flight state, which may show up in your dreams.
If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea or suffer from the following symptoms, you may need a sleep test to rule out a sleep disorder:
If you have sleep apnea, your sleep specialist may recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which works by supplying a steady stream of air through the airway.
This air pressure keeps the airway from collapsing, preventing snoring and physical blockages that cause lapses in breathing during sleep.
But even with CPAP treatment, the nightmares and negative symptoms may still persist. This is because mouth breathing is still possible even with a CPAP machine.
Chin straps, which are commonly prescribed to keep the mouth closed, don’t actually provide a proper seal to the lips, meaning snoring is still possible.
That’s why mouth tape is the perfect sleep accessory for sweet dreams, whether you suffer from sleep apnea or not.
Mouth taping offers huge health benefits. But before you slap on any piece of tape, think twice, or you may have yet another nightmare on your hands.
Some tapes contain harmful chemicals that cause rashes and irritation around the lips.
SomniFix Mouth Strips are free from irritants and created with a comfortable gel-like adhesive that’s so comfortable, you’ll forget you’re wearing mouth tape.
Put nightmares and disordered breathing to bed by improving your airway health as you rest. Drift into sweet dreams with SomniFix tonight!
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