The purpose of dreams aren’t entirely clear, but it could be linked to memory, creative thinking and problem solving.
Everyone dreams every night, mainly during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
While children are more likely to have nightmares and night terrors, they can sometimes affect adults, said the NHS.
You should see a GP if you’re having regular nightmares that are affecting your sleep and day-to-day life.
“As we dream, our eyeballs move around rapidly, whilst all other muscles [except those involved in breathing] are paralysed, so we don’t act out the dream and cause injury to ourselves or others,” said Naturalmats’ sleep expert, Christabel Majendie.
“REM-sleep behaviour disorder occurs when the body fails to induce this muscle paralysis and the individual acts out the dream.”
Dreams: Nightmares and night terrors can disrupt your sleep cycle
Dreams: How to stop nightmares, night terrors and sleep paralysis
Nightmares are an unpleasant experience that can be a recurring problem which disturbs your sleep cycle.
They can create strong feelings of terror, fear, distress and anxiety, the NHS said.
If you have a nightmare, the best thing to do is to re-orientate yourself after you wake up.
Remind yourself of where you are, and talk to yourself out loud, said Majendie. By grounding yourself and coming back to reality, you can reduce the feeling of fear and anxiety.
“If you experience recurring nightmares, a suggestion is to write down details of the unpleasant dream the following day, then change it to make it less frightening, or even turn it into a comedy,” said the sleep expert.
“Visualise your altered dream throughout the day. Evidence shows this technique can reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares.”
Dreams: Nightmares can cause anxiety and distress
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Dreams: Children are more likely to suffer from nightmares and night terrors
Night terrors occur during deep sleep – as opposed to REM sleep – and are part of a group of sleep disorders known as Parasomnias.
During a night terror, a patient may scream, shout and thrash around in extreme panic, according to the NHS. They can even jump out of bed.
While their eyes may be open, they’re not fully awake – similar to sleep walking.
Majendie said: “Although someone experiencing a night terror may appear to be awake with eyes open, body movements and speech, after the event most people show poor or no memory of it occurring.”
Episodes can last up to 15 minutes, and can be very distressing for anyone witnessing them.
The best way to prevent night terrors happening in the future is to try and get more sleep every night. The condition is linked to being sleep deprived, so while night terrors can disrupt your sleep pattern, they could actually be increasing your risk of more events in the future.
They’re also linked to feeling stressed, worried or excited, so relaxation techniques before bed could help to lower your risk of night terrors.
Dreams: Getting extra sleep could help to prevent night terrors and sleep paralysis
Dreams: See a GP if you have regular nightmares that are affecting day-to-day life
Sleep paralysis is a condition where the patient is temporarily unable to move or speak, either just after waking up, or just before falling asleep.
Patients have reported feeling completely aware of their surroundings, including opening and moving their eyes, but being unable to move or speak.
But, often people have vivid hallucinations during sleep paralysis. They’ve reported feeling like someone is in the room and wants to harm them, the NHS said.
This sensation can cause extreme fright, terror and anxiety.
An episode can last between a few seconds to several minutes.
“Often an episode of sleep paralysis may also involve an experience of intense pressure on the chest which can result in shortness of breath,” said Majendie.
“This may be accompanied by visual hallucinations or hearing sounds and voices that are not part of reality.”
Sleep paralysis is more common in people that are sleep deprived, or during periods of increased stress.
“So the clear message is, don’t cut back on your sleep, manage your stress and make your bedroom a sleep-promoting environment,” added the sleep expert.