What do dreams inform us about the quality of our sleep?

Firstly, dreams are very important and we all dream when we are asleep whether we remember them or not and we all dream between 3 to 6 times each night. It is believed that dreams play an important role in the memory function of the brain and also our cognitive process, so that is thinking, judging and problem-solving.

We are also more likely to dream about events that happened during the day that are significant such as really sad or extremely happy occurrences but all dreams are a way for everyone to process the day’s events.

So what is a good sleep and how do we know if we have had one?

Ideally, adults should be asleep between 7-8 hours every night, children and especially teenagers need more. The sleep should consist of a 10-minute slow-wave sleep. This is the rapid eye movement (REM) part of sleep and usually occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. During the REM cycle, the brain is extremely active and a couple of key things happen. Firstly almost 50% of human growth hormone (HGH) is released during the 10 minutes of slow-wave sleep. HGH is essential for normal growth and development in children and keeps adults looking young!

Your slow-wave sleep is also when you will have your most memorable dreams, so if you regularly remember your dreams, then this is a sure sign that you are having a healthy sleep.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that your sleep is poor if you don’t remember your dreams but it can be an indication especially if you are mouth breathing and/or snoring at night.

Mouth breathing and snoring are the two most common signs of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and both prevent you from entering your slow-wave sleep as you are much more likely to keep ‘semi-waking’. If you rarely get into the slow-wave sleep you're missing out on that extremely important 10 minute REM cycle. This may lead to extreme daytime sleepiness in adults and in children, irritability, and anti-social behavior. Also, adults are more likely to have bags under the eyes, and unwanted facial lines and wrinkles!

This post is dedicated to Faye Donald, RDH, who asked the question.

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