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You’re on stage and it’s time to give your big presentation. You look at your notes and everything is written in what looks like an alien language. The penguin hands you the mic and says you have five minutes for your 30-minute presentation, but you are reassured by the big thumbs up you’re getting from the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.
Sometimes your dreams have structure, other times not so much. It could be a pleasant dream, or a nightmare that wakes you up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Dreams are your mind’s way of processing things and, depending on where you are in the nightly sleep cycle, could cause you to have a night of poor sleep.
Stages of Sleep
According to the University of Michigan Health, there are four stages of sleep that are categorized as either non-REM sleep, or REM sleep.
- Stage 1: Happens shortly after you fall asleep and is very short (usually less than 10 minutes).
- Stage 2: Usually lasts around 30 to 60 minutes. During this stage, your muscles become more relaxed and you may begin to have slow-wave (delta) brain activity.
- Stage 3: This is deep sleep and lasts about 20 to 40 minutes. During this stage, delta brain activity increases and a person may have some involuntary body movements. It is very hard to wake up someone in Stage 3.
The fourth stage is REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, Sleep. This is the deepest level of sleep you can get. During this stage, your eyes move rapidly in various directions. People enter REM sleep within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep and, as the sleep cycle repeats throughout the night, REM sleep occurs several times nightly. It accounts for approximately 20 to 25 percent of an adult’s sleep cycle, and over 50 percent of an infant’s.
It’s interesting to note that your brain is as active during REM sleep as it is when it’s awake. This is the reason why you have vivid – and sometimes very weird – dreams. While it’s possible to dream during Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the sleep cycle, these dreams are not as vivid.
Scholars believe when you’re in REM sleep, your brain is trying to consolidate your memories. Think of it like your memories are pieces of a puzzle that your brain is trying to put together. This is a natural and healthy way for your brain to recharge for the day ahead.
When Dreams Interrupt the Sleep Cycle
It’s important to remember that it is called sleep cycle for a reason. Throughout the night, you will go through these different stages of sleep several times. If you have trouble sleeping, or deal with a medical issue such as sleep apnea, you might not ever really get to REM sleep. If you do, it could only last for a short period of time.
For the average person, as the night goes on, REM stages get longer, especially in the second half of the night. While the first REM stage may last only a few minutes, later stages can last for around an hour. Obviously, your brain and body want the best sleep it can get, but dreams have a way of snapping you out of your peaceful slumber whether you want them to or not.
An estimated 50 percent to 85 percent of adults report having the occasional nightmare. Nightmares tend to become less frequent and intense as you age. Women tend to report nightmares more often than men but are also more open to discussing their dreams and nightmares. Nightmares can cause you to wake up, thereby interrupting your sleep cycle, which can cause you to be tired or groggy the next day.
Ways to Try to Avoid Nightmares
It’s easy to say there are sure-fire ways to avoid having nightmares, but your brain doesn’t work like that. Instead, there are ways to try to avoid nightmares.
- Relax: Try taking a relaxing bath before going to bed, or maybe doing some light yoga or meditation. This is a great way to help clear your mind of bad thoughts and help you sleep better.
- Avoid alcohol: It’s generally best to avoid having a “night cap” before going to bed for just about all things, but it’s especially true when it comes to nightmares. Alcohol can throw your sleep cycle completely out of whack, so be careful and limit your alcoholic consumption before bed if you have to have that drink.
- Avoid the news: Watching the nightly news is a daily must for a lot of people. However, seeing a lot of negative things on television before going to sleep can cause you to have nightmares.
Another way to make sure you enjoy a great night’s sleep is to have a great mattress and pillow. Be sure to visit a Mattress Warehouse location, or shop online, for the mattress and pillow that is right for you!