Iowa Sleep Blog


Monday, July 13, 2015

Many people go to bed each night and wake up the next morning with lingering memories of images they remember seeing or experiencing during their sleep. These envisioned images, sounds or other sensations are called dreams. Many times, but not all the time, these dream and images can have parallels to your waking life. To help understand dreams a little more, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions about dreams and why they happen.

Why do we dream?

When we sleep, we pass through different levels of Rapid Eye Movement sleep and Non-REM sleep. There are three stages of sleep we pass through before we reach REM sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep where the brain is very active. It is in this stage when individuals experience dreams. If you are awoken during this stage, you’ll feel disorientated for a couple moments. The reasons behind why we dream and have been researched and studied for years, yet doctors and scientists aren’t entirely sure why they occur.

Do we dream every time we sleep?

Every time we sleep, we are experiencing dreams, we just might not remember what they were about. Researchers have found that people usually have several dreams each night, ranging from just a few minutes to more than 20. More than 95% of these dreams are quickly forgotten within minutes of waking. Some dreams may stick with us more than others because of the content of the dream. Many researchers believe our dreams may contain elements that relate to our waking lives and emotions, as sleeping is one of the few times during the day when we don’t have be focused in on a task; our thoughts are free to wander.

What’s the difference between a dream and a nightmare?

Both dreams and nightmares happen during sleep and can be very similar. Nightmares, or parasomnias, are moments of disoriented arousal during sleep that causes the sleeper to become scared or alarmed. Nightmares are most common in young children under the age of eight, but people of all ages can experience them. In many cases, nightmares cause the sleeper to awake suddenly, as the nightmare occurs in between two phases of sleep, rather than the middle of the REM cycle, which is when we dream.

Dreams are a unique part of sleeping that many doctors and researchers cannot explain. For individuals with REM Behavior Disorder, dreams can be taken to a whole other level. Sleepers with RBD physically move their bodies while sleeping, and sometimes even get out of beds to react what is happening in their dreams. Nightmares can be equally scary for these individuals as well. To learn more about dealing with nightmares and night terrors, you can read our blog post on the topic here.