Why do we dream? Experts aren’t sure, but there’s evidence that suggests dreaming plays a role in supporting brain functions that occur while we’re awake, such as processing thoughts, memories, and emotions.
So, is dreaming a sign of good sleep? Researchers believe it either reflects or contributes to healthy sleep. If you rarely or never dream, that may indicate you’re sleep-deprived. However, other factors affect dream recall, so you should talk with your doctor.
Do Nightmares Affect Quality of Sleep?
Most people have nightmares occasionally. But do bad dreams affect sleep quality? That depends on the frequency and intensity of your nightmares. If your bad dreams are rare or only mildly “bad,” they probably don’t affect your sleep quality.
But if they occur multiple times a week or are particularly disturbing, they may cause you to sleep less or less soundly. For example, you might stay up later and postpone going to sleep to avoid your bad dreams. Nightmares can also affect you during the day, both from the lack of sleep and from revisiting disturbing images from your bad dreams.
If nightmares consistently affect the quality of your sleep or life in general, you should talk with your doctor.
Different Sleeping Positions May Affect Your Dreams
Researchers can’t say conclusively if there’s a relationship between sleeping position and dreams. However, some have theorized that the different physical sensations you experience if you sleep on your back, side, or stomach may influence your dreams.
One study found that people who sleep on their left side are more likely to have nightmares. In another, stomach sleepers were more likely to report vivid dreams, including erotic dreams and nightmares.
Of course, dream research uses self-reporting, so the quality of the data can be suspect. Nevertheless, your sleeping position is something to consider, especially if you would like to change your dreaming in some way.
How Can You Stop Bad Dreams?
If you have persistent or intense bad dreams, you should contact your doctor. They can determine if you have a nightmare disorder. If they diagnose you with that condition, they can prescribe behavioral therapy, medication, or both.
You can also take steps to reduce the risk of having nightmares. They include:
- Avoiding alcohol and stimulants, especially close to bedtime.
- Establishing and sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule. That means you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Avoiding screen time for at least an hour before you go to bed.
- Avoiding viewing disturbing content (real-world or fictional), especially close to bedtime.
- Developing a “wind-down” routine that you follow every night to help yourself relax and free your mind of stressful thoughts. Meditation and journaling are practices that many people find helpful.
- Ensuring that your bedroom is comfortably cool, dark, and quiet at night.
Don’t Let Bad Dreams Adversely Affect Your Sleep
Persistent nightmares aren’t normal, and they aren’t something you “just need to get over.” At the Baptist Health Sleep Center, we assist patients in getting full nights of restful sleep. Contact us today.