Dreams. Everyone has them, but what do they really mean? We can't answer every question you've ever had about your own dreams—you might try an expert for that—but we can shed some light on the act of dreaming itself: how, why and even when you're most likely to dream. Here are seven dream facts you probably didn't know.
Have you ever woken up one morning and struggled to remember a dream. You know it was good/strange/scary, but the details of it vanish almost as soon as your head leaves the pillow. Most people forget their dreams within the first ten minutes of waking up. Scientists are still debating why it's so hard for people to remember their dreams. Some suggest it's due to the absence of an essential hormone in the cerebral cortex that helps you recall information. Others believe it's our brain's way of organizing and getting rid of nonessential information. One thing is for sure though, the more bizarre the dream, the more likely you are to remember it. That's because important information—like that crazy dream that left such an impression on you when you were sleeping—is stored in an entirely different part of the brain.
Having trouble remembering your dreams? Try eating more spicy foods. Research has shown that certain spices overheat the body, forcing it to go into cool-down mode and use a ton of energy to metabolize food—which may also make for some vivid dreaming, especially if you're not used to spiciness in your diet. Avoid eating anything (spicy or otherwise) right before bed though. Your body will be spending so much time digesting food that you're sure to get a restless night's sleep.
Did you know that every night, your body goes through multiple stages of sleep? Each stage has a different effect on your body but the one you're probably most familiar with is REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. This is when you dream and it is usually the final stage of sleep—meaning it happens about six hours after you lie down and close your eyes for the night. REM is when people have their longest, most vivid dreams and some experts believe that, instead of using an alarm clock to wake yourself up in the morning and jolt yourself out of REM sleep, it's better to let your body naturally wake up so that you finish dreaming and feel more refreshed.
It's mind boggling to think that a person will spend, on average, one-third of their life sleeping. We all know sleep is an important part of the body's healing and restorative process but would it surprise you to know that though you may spend decades catching some Zzzz's, you only spend about six years actually dreaming? That's because, though the average adult gets eight hours of shut-eye, they only spend 1-2 of those hours actually dreaming.
Plenty of people have vivid dreams, most of those in color, but a small percentage of people claim that when they close their eyes every night, their dreams are in more monochromatic hues. A study on dreams published in 2008 compared individuals who claim to dream in color with people who only dream in black and white. What they found was that age and exposure to certain types of media may have an effect on how people dream. Older adults who grew up watching black and white television for instance dreamed in black and white at a higher rate than their younger counterparts who have been exposed to "color media."
Humans aren't the only species that dreams. Most mammals also experience REM—the period of sleep known for lucid dreaming. While experts can't be sure that your pet's dreams are the same kind as yours, research suggests that animals are just as capable as their human friends of experiencing vivid dream cycles.
By now you know that the average person spends six years dreaming and that most dreams occur in the REM stage of sleep but did you know that though you probably only remember one, people can dream as many as 4-7 dreams per night? That's because, during REM periods, our brains become as active as they are during waking hours and REM periods can vary in length (from 5-10 minutes to half an hour). Some people even dream out of the REM cycle.
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