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If you ever woke up with a bad dream that made you sad, you might wonder whether dreams can affect your mood. To know more about it, you have to understand how dreams work, and the relationship between your dreams and your mental health.

Why do We Dream?

Dreaming is an integral part of sleeping. As per social psychology, an average person dreams about 2 hours every night in their daily life. Dreaming can be another way to deal with tricky situations and complex emotions in your daily life.

Dreams are emotions, images, and sounds you experience during sleep. They can happen anytime during the sleep cycle. Still, it is most common during the REM (Rapid eye movement) stage of your sleep cycle.

Your heart rate becomes shallow and erratic during the REM stage, while your blood pressure rises. As your brain works to remain active, your muscles remain paralyzed, protecting you from irregular movements as you dream.

How do Dreams Work?

Dreams can work in mysterious ways, and make you feel happy, angry, or scared. As the slow wave sleep progresses into REM sleep, your body stays inactive with increased brain activity.

Stimuli from your visual cortex are processed in the brain's limbic area, responsible for controlling emotions. You can feel various emotions during your dreams. However, it may not make sense as the logical part of your brain remains inactive.

Do Dreams Affect Sleep Quality?

Having a good night's sleep can make you feel better, while improving your memory and cognitive abilities, and stabilizing your mental health.

Sleeping in a bed with pillows made with solid or shredded latex and a natural latex mattress gives you the comfort and support to improve your sleep quality throughout the sleep cycle.

Having a good sleep in the REM cycle can help you dream where you can effectively process your emotions, waking up refreshed and recharged.

While lucid dreams can help stabilize your emotions, and improve mental health, having bad dreams can cause restless sleep, disrupting sleep quality.

Can Nightmares Affect Your Sleep Routine?

Intense nightmares that occur frequently affect your sleep routine, and can cause sleep problems. While most people have bad dreams once in a while, you have a sleep disorder if you suffer from frequent nightmares.

Nightmare disorders are most likely to happen in the second half of your sleep, and can have the following characteristics.

  • You experience bad dreams that are vivid, real and upsetting, and become intense as night rolls on.
  • The nightmares can threaten your safety or survival, although they can have other negative patterns.
  • The dream wakes you up, and it is often difficult to go back to sleep.
  • The nightmares can make you feel scared, anxious, sad, disgusted, or angry during the waking period.
  • You have physical symptoms like a pounding heart and sweaty palms when you wake up from disturbing dreams.

Your nightmares can be considered a disorder only if:

  • You experience frequent nightmares, often more than once on the same night.
  • They make you feel fear, anger, sadness, or other negative emotions that affect your daytime social life.
  • It affects your concentration or memory, as you cannot stop thinking about your dreams.
  • You suffer from sleep deprivation, causing daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or low energy.
  • The vivid dreams are causing insomnia, where you have sleep problems, lying awake in bed.

Nighttime disorders or parasomnia can be triggered because of the following factors:

Trauma, Including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder):

You can experience trauma from any situation, or a sudden event. When the effect of the trauma lingers on, affecting your everyday life, it may turn into PTSD. The impact of PTSD can range from insomnia to nightmare disorders.

The events that trigger PTSD can be life-threatening, like a violent assault, or a traumatizing relationship. It can also be emotional, as the death of a loved one, and other psychological issues like childhood abuse.

While most PTSD patients experience sleep disorders, studies found that it plays a significant role in about 72% of patients who have vivid dreams resulting from their PTSD symptoms.

Chronic Stress & Anxiety:

People prone to stress and having anxiety disorders can suffer from frequent nightmares that can affect their sleep quality. Experiencing anxiety disorders can aggravate their nightmares.

Alcohol & Substance Abuse:

The influence of alcohol and certain recreational drugs or their withdrawal effect can cause people to suffer from frequent nightmares.

Medications:

Medications, like anti-depressants, sleep medicines, blood pressure medicines, drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease, or those used to help stop smoking,  can cause nightmares in patients.

Scary Books or Movies:

Reading scary stories, or watching horror movies in bed can affect emotional health, and cause frequent nightmares in people.

Other Factors:

Mental health disorders, like depression, can cause sleep problems, resulting in nightmare disorders. Also, If you suffer from other sleep problems, they can aggravate the symptoms of nightmare disorders.

How can Depression Affect Your Dreams?

In people with depression, the REM cycle starts earlier and lasts longer than in a person who does not have the condition. The eye movements are also either sparse, or too deep. The earlier onset of the REM cycle prohibits the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), reducing deep sleep in such people.

People prone to depression and other mental health disorders often experience unsatisfactory sleep quality. They also take longer to heal their physical bodies.

Brain work of depressed people has shown unusually high activity in the brain's emotional areas while dreaming, which can explain their mood changes during waking hours.

Can Dreams Affect Your Moods?

Psychology experts say dreams are more about the emotional health of a person, and less about their rational thoughts. Often, the thoughts charged with highly emotional content get transferred from the wakefulness to the dream state, affecting your dream content.

Your negative emotions may get projected more frequently in your dreams, because of their higher intensity.

Per the mood regulatory functions of dreams theory, dreams can modulate negative emotional health, reducing the intensity in real life.

Dreams can diffuse the intensity of a dreamer's negative emotions, helping them wake up with a more positive sense of mind.

Dream Analysis in Solving Mood Disorders:

Many experts claim that dream content often highlights the important psychodynamics in the sleeper's brain. Dreams project the emotional problems and stressful situations of the dreamer to make sense of them, and reach a conclusion.

Dreams affect mental health, and help diagnose mental illness in people. They can provide warning signs for suicide, psychosis, and other mental health conditions.

The treatment options for mood disorders include collaboration between the patient and the mental health professional to analyze dreams effectively, and assist in dream recall. The dreamer can maintain a sleep journal to record their dreams to help with dream analysis.

When dreams successfully process the hidden emotions, the dreamers do not have any dreaming memory. If the processing of dreams remains unsatisfactory, nightmares or disturbing dreams can happen.

More often, the daytime mood of the dreamer is connected with the degree of satisfaction in processing such emotions in their dream state.

Takeaway

Your dreams can reflect your current and past emotional responses to situations around you. Effective processing of your negative feelings in the dream state can help you get rid of nightmares, and improve your mental well-being.

Elizabeth Magill

Elizabeth Magill is a professional freelance writer and editor who holds an MBA. Liz specializes in writing about health news, medical conditions, healthy living, small business, career and work, personal finance, and green-living, including news and trending topics in these specialties. Her clients include Healthline, The Motley Fool, GoBanking Rates, LIVESTRONG.com, Big Interview, HealthNews, Intuit Small Business Blog, Intuit Health, American News Report, Travels.com, IFX Medical, and many others. She’s also a published eBook author and ghost writer for various clients in the health, medical, career, small business, and personal finance niches.