author

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Heather Wright

Written by

Alexa Fry

We spend about two hours per night dreaming. Many people don’t remember their dreams or have only a vague recollection of what took place. However, sometimes, you may wake up with clear memories of your dreams.

The content of a vivid dream can cause feelings of joy or comfort. You may even find yourself waking up wishing you could return to the dream. Vivid dreams may be fantastical, leaving you wondering how your brain could have conjured such a strange scenario. Vivid dreams can also be upsetting or disturbing, and in some cases may interfere with experiencing quality sleep.

What Causes Vivid Dreams?

The two main stages of sleep are rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. Although dreaming can take place during both REM sleep and non-REM sleep, dreams experienced during REM sleep tend to be more vivid. Additionally, REM cycles are typically longer and deeper in the morning (towards the end of sleep).

Factors that may contribute to vivid dreaming:

  • Fragmented sleep: Since vivid dreams tend to occur during REM sleep, waking up during or right after REM sleep increases the chances that you will remember your dream more vividly.
  • Sleep deprivation: A study found that participants deprived of REM sleep one night experienced longer periods of REM sleep and increased dream intensity the following night.
  • Stress: Evidence suggests that individuals suffering from symptoms of anxiety during the day are more likely to experience dreams with upsetting content. This may also lead to mental health disturbances, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Medication: Certain drugs can affect the vividness of dreams. For example, one study suggested that SSRIs (a category of antidepressant) decreased how often patients remembered their dreams but increased the vividness of dreams when they were recalled. Other medications may cause nightmares, such as beta-blockers (a treatment for high blood pressure) and medications for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Sleep Disorders: This includes narcolepsy, which is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. Individuals with narcolepsy frequently experience vivid, bizarre dreams.
  • Pregnancy: Physical and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can cause insomnia and sleep disturbances. A research study found that women in the third trimester of pregnancy experienced more upsetting dream imagery compared with non-pregnant women.

Are Vivid Dreams a Cause of Concern?

Typically, vivid dreams are not a cause for concern. Although researchers don’t yet fully understand the specific function or meaning of dreams, some postulate that dreams are a natural part of emotional processing and memory formation.

Nightmares are vivid dreams with frightening or unsettling content. Many people experience occasional nightmares that resolve on their own. However, nightmare disorder is a sleep disorder in which nightmares interfere with one’s ability to get sufficient sleep. If you are experiencing sleep loss due to chronic nightmares, it is important to speak with your doctor.

How to Promote Vivid Dreams

How to Stop Vivid Dreams

  • Practice good sleep hygiene: Maintain a regular sleep schedule and ensure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep.
  • Cultivate peace of mind: Researchers have found that people with higher scores on measures of peace of mind are more likely to have positive dream content. Peace of mind means being able to accept both the good and the difficult experiences that occur in daily life. To cultivate peace of mind, it may help to engage in stress-relieving practices such as mindfulness meditation and relaxation exercises.

Melatonin Supplements and Vivid Dreams

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the body which supports the sleep-wake cycle. There is conflicting data on the effects of melatonin supplements and dreams. It has been shown to reduce vivid dreams in certain sleep disturbances.  For example, a study of individuals with REM sleep behavior disorder found melatonin supplements reduced frightening dreams and other symptoms.

In other scenarios, melatonin may increase REM sleep, and subsequently the chance to experience vivid dreams. Long term effects of melatonin use are unknown, so be sure to ask a doctor about whether it is safe and appropriate for you.

  • References

    +13 Sources
    1. 1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). (2019, August 13). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/patient-caregiver-education/understanding-sleep
    2. 2. Pagel J. F. (2000). Nightmares and disorders of dreaming. American family physician, 61(7), 2037–2044. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10779247/
    3. 3. Nielsen, T., Stenstrom, P., Takeuchi, T., Saucier, S., Lara-Carrasco, J., Solomonova, E., & Martel, E. (2005). Partial REM-sleep deprivation increases the dream-like quality of mentation from REM sleep and sleep onset. Sleep, 28(9), 1083–1089. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/28.9.1083
    4. 4. Sikka, P., Pesonen, H., & Revonsuo, A. (2018). Peace of mind and anxiety in the waking state are related to the affective content of dreams. Scientific reports, 8(1), 12762. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-30721-1
    5. 5. Pace-Schott, E. F., Gersh, T., Silvestri, R., Stickgold, R., Salzman, C., & Hobson, J. A. (2001). SSRI treatment suppresses dream recall frequency but increases subjective dream intensity in normal subjects. Journal of sleep research, 10(2), 129–142. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2869.2001.00249.x
    6. 6. Novak, M., & Shapiro, C. M. (1997). Drug-induced sleep disturbances. Focus on nonpsychotropic medications. Drug safety, 16(2), 133–149. https://doi.org/10.2165/00002018-199716020-00005
    7. 7. Schiappa, C., Scarpelli, S., D'Atri, A., Gorgoni, M., & De Gennaro, L. (2018). Narcolepsy and emotional experience: a review of the literature. Behavioral and brain functions : BBF, 14(1), 19.https://doi.org/10.1186/s12993-018-0151-x
    8. 8. Lara-Carrasco, J., Simard, V., Saint-Onge, K., Lamoureux-Tremblay, V., & Nielsen, T. (2014). Disturbed dreaming during the third trimester of pregnancy. Sleep medicine, 15(6), 694–700.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2014.01.026
    9. 9. Scarpelli, S., Bartolacci, C., D'Atri, A., Gorgoni, M., & De Gennaro, L. (2019). Mental Sleep Activity and Disturbing Dreams in the Lifespan. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(19), 3658. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16193658
    10. 10. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2014). The International Classification of Sleep Disorders – Third Edition (ICSD-3). Darien, IL.
    11. 11. Schredl, M. (2002). Questionnaires and Diaries as Research Instruments in Dream Research: Methodological Issues. Dreaming, 12, 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1013890421674
    12. 12. Colrain, I. M., Nicholas, C. L., & Baker, F. C. (2014). Alcohol and the sleeping brain. Handbook of clinical neurology, 125, 415–431. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-62619-6.00024-0
    13. 13. McGrane, I. R., Leung, J. G., St Louis, E. K., & Boeve, B. F. (2015). Melatonin therapy for REM sleep behavior disorder: a critical review of evidence. Sleep medicine, 16(1), 19–26.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2014.09.011