Do dreams and dreaming affect our health?

Some dreams are pleasant and cause us to smile in our sleep while others are simply terrifying or embarrassing to the point we sweat, toss and turn and wake up horrified. Whether good or bad, dreams are a normal part of sleep.

The average person dreams for about two hours each night, becoming most vivid during the REM stage — Rapid Eye Movement about 90 minutes after falling asleep — when brain activity is heightened. About 5 percent of people experience persistent nightmares to the point they become a sleeping disorder. However for most, dreaming is a natural and normal part of sleep.

That leaves us with the question, do dreams affect our health? The answer is yes, they do, but our health also affects our dreams. Some researchers believe that dreaming helps us process emotions and memories, such as coping with major life stress by associating, through dreaming, feelings and conflict resolution, since many people recalling dreams often first refer to the emotions of them.

On the other hand, there are several factors that scientists say can affect our dreams. Sleep deprivation is known to play a major role in dreaming since it can make parts of your brain a lot more active in REM. That is when people are more likely to experience vivid dreams and even restless nights.

Other health factors that are believed to affect your dreams include being pregnant when hormone production affects the way your brain processes thoughts and emotions, as well as mental disorders and other mood-related conditions. Medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics have also been associated with a higher risk of nightmares.