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6 Facts About Dreams and Sleep Phenomena

Researchers are uncovering many surprising facts about dreams that could change the way you think about sleep. In fact, sleeping and dreaming are absolutely vital for our health and longevity. The better your sleep, the better your wakeful hours will be. Here are some surprising facts about the fascinatingly strange world of sleep and what happens to your brain while you're sleeping.

1. The Purpose of Dreams

Scientists are still uncovering exactly why we dream and what dreams mean. But they do know that sleep and dreaming are vital to our health. Here are some of the more interesting theories about the purpose of our dreams.

  • Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed we dreamed to fulfill subconscious wishes, and dreams were messages from our unconscious mind.
  • Dreaming may help our short- and long-term memory.
  • According to the continual-activation theory, dreaming may also help our brain rewire connections, and fix or get rid of unnecessary ones.
  • Dreams may help us deal with stress and process traumatic events.
  • Dreams might be a form of problem-solving. Even nightmares are beneficial — they could be your brain's way of practicing fight or flight techniques.
  • Dreaming could be a form of play, even for adults.

2. Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a strange phenomenon that many people have experienced. It happens when you wake up but can't move or open your eyes. You may feel like there's an intruder nearby, and it takes a momentous effort to move and fully awaken. So what's going on?

When you dream (or enter REM sleep), your brain "paralyzes" your body so you can't act out your dreams. But every now and then, there's a slight malfunction, and you become conscious before this temporary paralysis wears off. This half-awake/half-asleep state might trigger nightmares, leading you to believe there's a threatening entity in the room with you.

3. Lucid Dreaming

About 50 percent of people become lucid or conscious at some point while they dream, and about 20 percent of people learn to do so regularly — often with the intent to control aspects of their dreams. If you want to learn how, there are a few techniques you can try. One is to do "dream checks" during the day, asking yourself if you're dreaming and looking for signs that don't match reality. Your brain may get used to these "checks" and do them while you're dreaming, triggering lucidity. Others try waking themselves early, staying awake for at least 30 minutes, and then going back to sleep. They say this increases the chances of lucidity.

4. "Falling" Before You Fall Asleep

Many people dream that they're falling right before they completely fall asleep, only to jerk their muscles in response and wake back up. This is called a hypnic jerk or sleep start. Theories about its cause vary, but it could be a natural twitch the body makes, a consequence of going through the first stage of sleep too quickly, or a result of having poor sleep quality. Whatever the source, it's no reason to worry.

5. Waking Dreams

Have you ever woken up and thought you saw a spider crawling on your wall, only to jump out of bed and realize you were dreaming? These are a type of waking dream called hypnagogic hallucinations when you're falling asleep or hypnopompic hallucinations when you're waking up. Sometimes they're associated with narcolepsy, but often they just occur occasionally, like sleep paralysis.

6. The Ability to Remember Dreams

You can make your "dream life" more fascinating by teaching yourself to remember your dreams. This requires a bit of discipline. Keep a notebook with a pen by your bed. When you wake up, just lie in bed and think about your dream for a few minutes, then write it down. If you're really serious, drink a few glasses of water before bed. You might remember more dreams when you wake up to use the restroom than you would when you wake in the morning.

Thanks to these facts about dreams, you now know that some of those weird things that happen when you sleep are actually normal. This might help you rest easier and sleep more soundly. And remember: Whether you want to experiment with lucid dreaming or just have better dreams, sleeping and dreaming are vital for your health, so make quality sleep a top priority.

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