Ways to Improve Sleep and Dreams

We frequently write about sleep. Sleep is an integral part of health. People have joked that getting a good night’s sleep is the biological equivalent of “turning it off and turning it on again” for computers. It’s sort of true! Sleeping well sets you up for a great day. Poor sleep can have adverse impacts on your mood and your health, including your blood sugar.

For the last year, people have been reporting poor sleep and weird dreams. By April of 2020, the media was already reporting on the phenomenon. There are many reasons why our dreams are so odd. One of the main reasons has been stress. Anxiety increases strange dreams and nightmares. But, even people who said they weren’t anxious about COVID-19 were experiencing bizarre dreams. That could be because your dreams are a way for your brain to process information and the events of the day while you sleep. None of us had our normal routines this last year. From closures, to lockdowns, to masks and canceled plans, everything was thrown off-kilter. Our brains weren’t handling regular input; they were working odd material and producing strange dreams.

Another reason is that many of us have become night owls and shifted to a later bedtime as we’ve had fewer places to go in the early morning. Throwing off your sleep cycle can lead to more vivid dreams. When you sleep later in the morning, you get more rapid eye movement sleep (REM). That’s when your mind stores dreams and starts to get your body ready to wake up.  

When you’re getting more REM during stressful times, you get more REM nightmares. We’re calling this phenomenon ‘quaradreaming,’” said sleep specialist Michael Breus.

The good news is that if you’re having these dreams and want them to stop, there are ways to help yourself. First, follow all the normal steps for better sleep that we have shared over the years: have a cool bedroom, avoid blue light, take a warm bath, have a comforting bedtime ritual and set a regular bedtime.

In addition to this, take a step back from the things that are stressing you out. Is it too much news? Is it reading things friends or family wrote on social media? Cut those stressors out of your life hours before bedtime. It will all be there in the morning.

Tell someone about the plot of your dream, or write it out. That can minimize how it made you feel and make it leave your mind more quickly. If it lingers, think about how it could have been better, fix the way it went and write that down. That is actually a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy used to treat PTSD-related nightmares.

Turn on the light or get out of bed after a nightmare. You might think you should try to just roll over so that you can get more sleep. But, you would be surprised how easy it is to fall back to sleep if you allow yourself to fully wake up. If you let yourself wake up, your brain sees that the odd “quaradream” wasn’t real, and you’ll get better, more restful sleep than if you try to simply roll over as your brain will stay in that upset pattern.

Finally, avoid spicy food. You might think it’s just an old wives’ tale that spicy food will give you weird and bad dreams, but science will back it up! Studies have shown that spicy food appears to cause strange dreams and nightmares. Researchers aren’t sure why. It could be because it increases your internal temperature and therefore throws off your REM. It might also be that it causes you to have digestion problems that cause interrupted sleep, leading to your remembering dreams more readily. Or it could be because some spices, like nutmeg, have psychoactive properties that may impact you subconsciously. There are no conclusions as to why spicy foods impact dreams, just that they do. So, if you’re trying to avoid weird dreams, pass on spicy foods at dinner.

Hopefully, armed with this information, you’ll be able to improve your sleep and start getting more restful nights!

Banner image: Jaymantri via Pexels

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