Dreams can take many forms. They can be the visions our mind formulates as we sleep. Some of these visions can include previous events or people we know. They could also be distorted images and encounters–these tend to happen more frequently as the night wears on. Along with visions, they can also include sounds, smells, feelings, and other sensory measures.

Therefore, anything you experience during sleep could qualify as a dream. So, when does dreaming happen in your sleep cycle? 

While dreams can happen anytime you are asleep, your rapid eye movement (REM) cycle is when you encounter your most vivid dreams. It is also where your brain is the most active and where you can have lucid dreams, which we will discuss in further detail later on.

Meanwhile, some dreams can also affect sleep quality. Nightmares can wake you up, interrupting your sleep cycle, and make it difficult to fall back asleep. 

What Are The Different Types Of Dreams?

You can encounter several different kinds of dreams as you sleep. Some can give you the power to alter them. They can be so terrifying or seem so real they wake you up in other instances. 

Nightmares 

Nightmares are dreams that produce feelings of fear or anxiety. They can also seem so vivid they seem like they are happening in real life. In many instances, when you have one, it jolts you from sleep. 

Nightmares also occur more often in the second half of the night. While having the occasional one is normal despite how uncomfortable they are, having them often could signify a nightmare disorder. In this case, you want to consult with your doctor. 

Daydreams 

A daydream is where your mind drifts from your current environment to a vision. The vision can take many forms, like tracing back to an experience you had or fantasizing about how you would ask out your crush. Unlike other kinds of dreaming, you are awake as this happens. 

When you daydream, your brain can also analyze points of view, information, and more in ways it hasn’t before. In turn, daydreaming can make you more creative because it exercises parts of the brain that might have been dormant. 

Lucid Dreams

When people ask what is dreaming, those answering often speak of lucid dreams. Lucid dreams are your most vivid dreams, occurring during REM. They are also unique in that you can control your actions and reactions, whereas, in other dreams, you might not have this control.

Lucid dreams have many benefits like decreasing anxiety, boosting creativity and improved problem-solving. To help you experience them, consider having a dream journal on your nightstand, as the more you can remember your dreams, the more likely you are to have lucid ones. 

Why Do People Dream? 

People can dream for a variety of reasons. It can include filtering out experiences, holding onto the memories you hold most dear while purging those you do not want nor need.

Our dreams can help our minds solve problems. When we sleep, our brain free associates, tying together experiences and analyzing issues from different perspectives. 

One theory, called the threat-simulation hypothesis, is akin to a simulator where we try out solutions to solve environmental threats. Playing out these simulations can help you prepare for decisions that might await you down the road. 

Another theory, called the activation-synthesis hypothesis, tries to pin down the root cause of what makes us dream. Led by Harvard psychiatrists, the theory suggests we can create visions through brainstem activation and your limbic system stimulated during REM. Essentially, when these things happen, it allows our brain to become aware of our dreams. 

What Influences Dreams? 

Another perspective to consider is environmental components. To demonstrate, have you ever noticed how sometimes you have strange dreams after you ate a specific food? It isn’t uncommon for your environment or behaviors to shape how you dream. Below, we will examine several of these factors and how they impact our dreams. 

Health 

Your health can correlate to the dreams you have. Studies have shown people suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea can experience more emotional dreams, with violent or aggressive content being more prevalent. Moreover, those who experience regular stress could have stress-induced nightmares

Sleeping Habits 

Have you noticed how you occasionally go through cycles when you do not sleep well for a few nights, then have one night of great sleep and have vivid dreams? Your sleeping habits can play a huge role in how and when you dream. 

Moreover, if you do not maintain a regular sleeping schedule, it can be difficult for your body to adjust. Therefore, to receive the best sleep and experience lucid dreams, it is vital to maintain a regular sleeping schedule. 

Age

When you reach adulthood, your ability to recall dreams diminishes slightly. It is partly due to a change in our sleeping patterns, as work, parenthood, and other factors come into play. Moreover, as you age, your sleep reduces by two percent each decade from the time you reach 20 until age 60. 

Gender 

Did you know females can recall more of their dreams than their male counterparts? One of the theories addressing this concerns girls in their teenage years having more encouragement to discuss their feelings. By being in touch with how they feel, they can be more receptive to brain activity, allowing them to recall more dreams. 

Nutrition 

Food can also shape how we recall our dreams. If you eat something that causes heartburn or digestive discomfort and wakes you up at night, you might have a better chance of remembering what you were dreaming of before as it is still fresh in your mind. Furthermore, if you eat a large meal before going to sleep, it can raise your body’s temperature, resulting in more brain activity as you sleep. 

Final Thoughts 

Are dreams real? Yes, they are. When explaining what is a dream, keep in mind that it can include memories of experiences you encountered, people you met, and even help you simulate how to solve a problem that arises in your life. 

Your brain can also use dreams as mental housekeeping, inventorying memories you want to keep while filtering out the rest. 

If you want to be more in tune with your dreams, consider keeping a journal by your bed. That way, when you wake up, you can document them and see if any patterns emerge. In turn, you might be able to experience more lucid dreams, which can help reduce your anxiety and sharpen your problem-solving skills.