At What Stage Of Sleep Do You Dream? Do Dreams Impact Sleep Quality?

Dreaming is one of the most interesting and distinctive parts of sleep. A typical night’s sleep includes approximately two hours of dreaming. But at what stage of sleep do you dream? Read on to get to know this intriguing aspect of sleep.

Have you ever woken up in the middle of a pleasant or interesting dream? Maybe you were drifting in the water, blissfully unaware, or maybe you were being chased by a huge jaguar in the rainforests of Brazil. You may have even felt dissatisfied after waking up since you were unable to complete your dream. But at what stage of sleep do you dream?

How is the stage of dreaming linked with sleeping? What are the functions of dreams? Do dreams impact quality of sleep? In this article, we are going to dive deep into the realm of dreaming and its connection with sleep, so read on to get all the interesting insights on this intriguing topic.

What are dreams?

Stories and pictures that our imaginations conjure up while we sleep are known as dreams. They can be humorous, enjoyable, romantic, upsetting, frightful, and even weird. Dreams are a universal human experience that can be defined as a state of awareness characterized by sensory, cognitive, and emotional events that occur while sleeping.

The dreamer has less control over the content, visual images, and memory activation. There is no cognitive state that has received as much attention and yet is so commonly misinterpreted as dreaming.

The neuroscientific and psychoanalytic approaches to dream analysis differ significantly. Neuroscientists are fascinated by the systems that underpin dream formation, dream organization, and how dreams are narrated. However, psychoanalysis focuses on the significance of dreams and how they relate to relationships in the dreamer’s past.

Themes, issues, dream people, and things that are frequently present in reports of dreams often have strong ties to the waking world. These components produce an experience with realistic timing and relationships by inventing a novel “reality” out of what would otherwise appear to be nothing.

What causes dreams?

Why do people dream? What causes dreams? These are questions for the ages. Experts don’t know much about why people dream and where dreams come from. The prevailing idea, however, is that dreaming aids in the consolidation and analysis of memories (such as abilities and habits) and likely functions as a “rehearsal” for various events and obstacles that one confronts throughout the day.

At the same time, we still have a lot to learn about what happens psychologically when we dream. According to one study, dreams are caused more by your imagination (the memories, abstract concepts, and wishes pumped up from deep inside your brain) than by perception (the vivid sensory experiences you collect in your forebrain).

Experts have discovered that dreaming can occur alongside psychiatric problems. We do know that patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to experience nightmares. Because they reoccur around traumatic experiences, these are symptoms of tension for those suffering from PTSD.

There are numerous explanations for why we dream. Do dreams only occur during sleep, or do they also serve some other function? There has been discussion on why we dream and how dreams work for a long time. The scientific community disagrees with the purpose of dreams and whether or not they have any significance. Numerous ideas in science explain why we dream:

  • Activation synthesis theory: According to the activation-synthesis theory, which psychiatrists developed at Harvard University, dreams happen when the brain is stimulated in a way that makes thoughts more conscious. According to the activation-synthesis hypothesis, stimulation of the limbic system (emotional motor system) and brainstem activation during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep are what create dreams.
  • Threat-simulation theory: This idea, which is based on the research of a Finnish cognitive neuroscientist and psychologist, contends that dreaming serves as practice for potentially dangerous scenarios that may arise in real life.
  • Biological reaction to life situations. One researcher investigated why people have terrible dreams, specifically those about assailants or foes. It could be an evolutionary and biological response, possibly based on distinct life experiences.
  • The organization of knowledge and memories. According to research published in 1985, the objective of dreams is to organize knowledge and build brain connections, which aids memory recall. According to this view, dreaming allows the brain to problem-solve, make decisions, and prioritize.

Some other possible explanations include

  • Dreams tend to portray our latent wants and wishes.
  • It is involved in interpreting random information from the brain and body during sleep.
  • It is involved in collecting and processing information acquired throughout the day.
  • Dreams work as a sort of psychotherapy.

What are the functions of dreams?

One of the great mysteries of the human experience and of sleep itself is dreaming. Humans have long pondered the meaning and purpose of dreams, and societies have associated them with their deepest hopes and fears.

Many ancient cultures interpreted dreams as divine messages or warnings. Dreams have been seen throughout history as out-of-body experiences for the soul, as a means of communicating with the dead, and as forerunners of bad spirits.

Dreams, according to Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, are a terrain for exploring repressed emotions and inner impulses. However, modern psychologists and neurologists disagree on what it means to dream.

We have the propensity to reject dreams as trivial and insignificant, yet the truth is that dreams can be really beneficial. However, it is very likely that dreams serve many useful purposes, which is why it is critical that people overcome sleep disorders such as sleep apnea in order to get a full night’s sleep and complete their necessary dreaming.

Here are five functions that scientists have suggested dreams may perform, and while none of them are certain, the possibility that any of them are true should encourage you to work harder every night to enter dreamland.

  • Dreams could be your brain’s way of relocating memories
  • Dreams could be memory retention
  • Dream as life simulation
  • A problem-solving mechanism
  • Mutations in the thought process
  • Emotion-mediated Processing

Dreams could be your brain’s way of relocating memories

According to the Continual Activation Theory, the brain contains three memory storage areas: short-term memory, temporary memory, and long-term memory storage. Short-term memory contains everything you require when undertaking a certain activity, and it must be emptied on a regular basis to allow you to focus on a new activity or event

When short-term memory is exhausted, it is transferred to temporary memory, where it remains until the end of the day. Your brain transfers memories from temporary memory to long-term memory as you sleep. Memory fragments flash by your conscious brain as this transfer occurs, resulting in an “experience” that blends recent memories with those that may be adjacent in long-term storage.

Dreams could be memory retention

This idea contends that while you sleep, your mind engages with memories, similar to the Continual Activation Theory. According to studies, people recall memories more clearly after sleeping than they do when asked to do so immediately following a sleepless night. We are aware that memories cause rewiring in the brain. You may feel symptoms related to the rewiring since your brain may be going through this process of rewiring while you’re asleep.

Dream as life simulation

According to a Finnish researcher, the content of dreams doesn’t seem as random as theories that see them as a mere byproduct may imply. Instead, he suggests that dreams are essentially a form of threat simulation that lets us learn about potentially dangerous situations and prepares us for how to react when they do. Since so many dream issues are not inherently dangerous, I would broaden this idea to include a life rehearsal notion.

However, it appears that most scientific research on this idea is in favor of it. When one’s life or ability to reproduce is endangered, people tend to act defensively, according to an analysis of more than 200 consecutive dreams that revealed around two-thirds of them contain such incidents.

However, only around 15% of the dreams showed actual, likely events. It may also be indicative of a memory function in dreaming as a threat simulation role since traumatized youngsters tended to report more dangerous nightmares.

A problem-solving mechanism

Others argue that “threat simulation” might be construed more broadly as a problem-solving technique. Many inventors and artists claim that their ideas came to them in a dream. Furthermore, when asked to ponder about an issue before going to bed, around half of the participants believe they dream about their problem—and its solution. Although not conclusive, the evidence is suggestive.

Mutations in the thought process

Some studies have argued that in our dreams, our ideas can morph into patterns that are not available when we are conscious, in a less conscious method that may nevertheless be valuable. This permits us to produce novel combinations of ideas, which may explain why the threat simulation theory and problem-solving theory both have a low overall correlation despite their success.

Emotion-mediated Processing

This theory, called the Contemporary Theory of Dreaming, takes some of the possibilities of threat simulation, problem-solving, and memory writing and incorporates them in an emotionally-mediated context. Thus, the brain is considered to be making and unmaking connections during dreaming in a way that is mediated by the brain’s dominant emotions. The stronger the emotions, the more controlled the dreams.

What are the stages of sleep?

Our mental and physical health depends on sleep, and obtaining adequate sleep improves our mood, ability to concentrate, and clarity of thought. We sleep for a third of our lives, but what exactly happens when we do? What exactly does our brain do all night long when we are resting our heads on a soft and comfy pillow?

In the early 1900s, it was believed that when we sleep, our brains simply turn off and cease all activity. However, the discovery of REM sleep cast doubt on this theory. Our brains work hard at night, even if we are unaware of it.

The majority of people are aware of the two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM. However, many people are unaware that non-REM sleep comprises four distinct stages that you go through during the night.

On an average night of sleep, we experience many sleep cycles. Each cycle includes four distinct stages of sleep and lasts 90 to 110 minutes. We typically go through 4 to 5 sleep cycles during an average eight-hour sleep. Each stage has a distinct purpose and is characterized by distinct brain activity in the form of waves that an EEG may identify.

The amount of time you spend in each of these stages, as well as the stage from which you awaken, can have a significant impact on how rested you feel and how much energy you have during the day. Here are the five sleep stages and why they are important.

  • Stage 1 of non-REM sleep
  • Stage 2 of non-REM sleep
  • Stage 3 of non-REM sleep
  • Stage 4 of non-REM sleep
  • Stage 5: REM sleep

Stage 1 of non-REM sleep

This is the stage you are in when you initially fall asleep. The cessation of muscle action and the slow movement of the eyeballs beneath the eyelid are indicators of this. You might still be conscious of some of the things happening around you at this “twilight” stage of sleep. You can typically be awakened by noises or other disruptions during this light stage of sleep.

At this point, neurons begin to fire more rapidly, and brain activity shifts to theta waves (4-8HZ). Muscles relax, and respiration and heart rate slow down compared to when awake. Hypnic jerks and abrupt muscle contractions, typically accompanied by a sense of falling, are prevalent during the first stage of sleep.

The brain’s activity shifts to theta waves at this point when neurons begin to fire more synchronously (4-8HZ). In comparison, when you are awake, muscles relax, and respiration and heart rate slow down. During the first stage of sleep, hypnic jerks and abrupt muscle contractions are frequent occurrences, frequently accompanied by a sense of falling.

Stage 2 of non-REM sleep

At this point, you are genuinely entirely asleep and have lost all sense of your surroundings. In stage 2, the breathing and heart rates stabilize, the body temperature drops, and the eye movements either become erratic or cease entirely. Waveforms such as K complexes and sleep spindles can be seen at this stage. These are quick and short-term fluctuations in brain activity.

This phase takes about 20 minutes to complete. This period can last up to 60 minutes, but with each subsequent sleep cycle, it tends to increase in length. It’s believed that it accounts for at least half of the time we spend sleeping overall.

Stage 3 of non-REM sleep

With only a few brief bursts of activity, brain waves fade down in stage 3. Muscles unwind, and respiration becomes even more sluggish during this profound sleep. Being linked to the immune system’s fortification, cell regeneration, and muscular growth, this stage is crucial for preserving physical health.

As the brain’s activity and metabolic rate reduces, there are no eye movements at this point, allowing it to rest. As our brain is resting thus, if an alarm or other interruption wakes you from this stage of sleep, you could feel confused and disoriented.

Delta waves, which are slower than 4Hz and make up 30 to 50% of the brain’s early activity, predominate. As time goes on, more than 50% of wave activity is delta wave activity. Depending on the sleep cycle, deep sleep can last anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes on average.

As the night goes on, it usually grows shorter after the initial cycle, which is usually the longest. In the latter cycles, when REM sleep and stage 2 sleep lengthen, deep sleep may even be totally bypassed.

Stage 4 of non-REM sleep

Stage 4 is an even deeper slumber, during which the brain waves become even slower, and the sleeper is exceedingly challenging to awaken. In addition to hormones being released to aid in growth, it is thought that tissue repair takes place during the sleep stage.

Stage 5: REM sleep

REM sleep is the last phase of sleep, and dreams occur during this phase. While breathing becomes shallow and quick, the eyes move quickly under the lids. During REM sleep, blood pressure and pulse rate both rise, and arms and legs become immobile; this condition is known as REM atonia, which makes it impossible for sleepers to act out their dreams.

The metabolic activity of the brain is frequently comparable to or even greater than that of awake activities. Because the brain is extremely active during this stage, you may feel more aware after waking up than during slow-wave sleep. We also have vivid and engrossing dreams during REM sleep. If we wake up during this stage, we are also more likely to remember them.

This stage, along with dreams, is assumed to serve as a means for the brain to store and organize information as well as to stimulate the areas of the brain required for memory and learning. About 90 minutes into the sleep cycle, REM sleep starts to occur.

Each cycle’s duration varies throughout the course of the night, but the average person will go through each stage numerous times before awakening. The deeper stages of sleep could not be attained as frequently for people with sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea since they are awakened frequently. This may result in the body’s failure to repair the damage, fewer dreams, and increased daytime weariness after waking up.

  • Note: Other than REM sleep, dreams can also happen in other stages of sleep. However, in contrast to the dreams we might have during other stages, REM sleep is characterized by vivid and immersive dreams.

At what stage of sleep do you dream?

The REM period of sleep is when dreams often take place, and they are frequently described as a variety of sights, feelings, and emotions. Your day may be significantly affected by the content of your dreams. Your day’s course can consequently affect your dreams at night.

You may spend around two hours of your sleep dreaming. And you may still wake up without remembering that you had a dream or what happened in it. However, if you awaken from REM sleep, you are more likely to remember what you were dreaming about.

We also know much — but not all — of what’s physiologically happening during dreams. Experts believe that the brainstem creates REM sleep and the forebrain generates dreams. When the brainstem is harmed, patients dream but do not enter REM sleep. If the forebrain is affected, individuals enter REM sleep but do not dream.

Brain activity increases significantly during the REM sleep stage compared to the non-REM stages, which helps to explain the different forms of dreaming that occur during various stages. While they may contain everyday life elements, dreams during REM sleep are often more vivid, fanciful, and/or weird. Non-REM dreams, on the other hand, tend to have more cohesive content, such as thoughts or memories tied to a certain time and place.

REM sleep is not equally dispersed throughout the night. The majority of REM sleep occurs in the second half of a normal sleep cycle. Therefore, dreaming is focused on the hours before waking up.

Do dreams only happen during the REM cycle of sleep?

If you believe that dreaming only occurs during REM sleep, you are not alone. G. William Domhoff, who has been studying the process of dreaming for over 60 years, blames early studies for perpetuating the notion. And it dates back to before scientists even recognized what REM sleep was.

It all started in the 1950s when Eugene Aserinsky, a physiology student at the time, experimented on his 8-year-old son. Aserinsky connected his youngster to a piece of equipment that monitored brain activity. The equipment recorded the boy’s “rapid eye movement” as he slept – the first scientific report of REM.

Aserinsky’s discovery made headlines and raised the profile of sleep research. Adult sleep studies were then conducted. Participants in this research were awakened during REM sleep cycles. They were able to recount vivid dreams, giving rise to a novel theory: REM and dreaming were somehow linked.

“We used to believe that we only dream during REM sleep, so REM sleep had to be just for dreaming,” Domhoff adds. “Further study proved us incorrect. We frequently dream during REM sleep, but we don’t have to be in REM sleep to dream.”

Domhoff notes that when dreaming during other stages of sleep was revealed in the early 1960s, it was too late to reverse earlier enthusiasm for the REM-dreaming relationship. “It was difficult to shake the notion that REM was [the same as] ‘dream sleep.”

There is plenty of evidence that dreaming can occur throughout various stages of sleep. Dreaming during non-REM sleep was first observed by scientists in 1961. Many additional reports have been presented since then.

In one study, sleep participants were awakened within the initial few minutes of their sleep cycle. Participants in the study were asked to explain their dreams if they had any. More than half of them were able to recall a dream.

Another study discovered that lucid dreams could happen during both REM and non-REM sleep. A lucid dream occurs when you are aware that you are dreaming while sleeping. According to this study, lucid dreaming can occur at any point of your sleep cycle, including stage 1 and possibly stage 2.

According to an older study that looked into whether NREM dreams are simply recollections of REM dreams, dream reports from NREM naps are “less notable in quantity, vividness, and emotion than those from REM naps.” However, evidence reveals that dreams can occur during NREM sleep and are not only a recall of REM sleep dreams.

In conclusion, you may say that although you can dream at any stage of sleep, vivid and emotional dreams are more common during REM sleep. During REM sleep, you are also more prone to have lucid dreams.

What’s the difference between REM sleep dreams and non-REM sleep dreams?

When compared to non-REM sleep, dream reports obtained after rapid eye movement sleep (REM) awakenings are longer, more vivid, odd, emotional, and story-like. The basic differences between the kinds of dreams between both these sleep stages are

  • Dreams in REM sleep are easier to remember than dreams in other sleep phases.
  • REM dreams are frequently lengthier and contain more unusual vocabulary.
  • REM dreams are more vivid, emotional, and physically engaged than non-REM dreams.
  • According to some researchers, REM dreams are more intricate in their story-like structure.

Do dreams impact sleep quality?

Dreams tend to impact our lives intricately. Sometimes we are unaware that our lives are getting influenced by the kinds of dreams we see when we are engulfed in our deep slumber. But still, a point to be kept in mind is that usually, we don’t even remember the dream we saw in our dreams.

Dreaming is a part of a healthy sleeping routine. Having a good night of sleep positively impacts how our mind processes work and how efficiently we make daily decisions.  It has a better effect on our emotional health, and having good dreams gives us a  positive attitude throughout the day toward difficult situations. This is one of the reasons why many experts believe that dreaming is either a reflection of or a patron of quality sleep.

In contrast, not all dreams are considered good for human health, the mind, and especially for sleep quality. Some dreams can hurt our sleep. Bad dreams or nightmares, as we call them, carry a large content of traumatic, threatening, or scary things. When we wake up from a bad dream, it is usually seen that we are drenched in sweat. That is just one of the reasons why we can say that nightmares harm our sleep quality.

  • How bad are nightmares for sleep?
  • How can you stop having nightmares?
  • Does the position you sleep in affect your dreams?

How bad are nightmares for sleep?

Nightmares tend to have a negative impact on our sleep quality, but this usually happens when they occur frequently or are traumatic. Most people have nightmares or traumatic dreams once in a while and usually forget about them; thus, such dreams don’t affect their sleep quality.

When nightmares become a routine, that’s when the trouble starts. Some people that complain of dreams impacting the quality of their sleep have nightmares once a week or even every night. When nightmares become a routine, they can be categorized as nightmare disorders.

Nightmare disorders can be causally defined as the prevalence of frequent nightmares that disturb a person’s sleep or mood and even thinking during the day if they have nightmares more than once a week or every night when they sleep. If a person complains of frequent nightmares disrupting their sleep mood or thinking, they should contact a sleep specialist. A doctor can help them identify the cause of their nightmares and provide a solution for their problematic dreams.

How can you stop having nightmares?

If you have persistent nightmares and having these nightmares is affecting the quality of your life and sleep, then you should try consulting a sleep specialist or health care professional. They will help you with your diagnosis; if they diagnose you with a nightmare disorder, then they prescribe you therapy or medicines that can help you with your situation. In addition, you can also take the following steps to help you with your frequent nightmares.

  • Avoid drinking or using any sort of edibles at bedtime.
  • Try maintaining a sleep schedule. That means you should try going to sleep and waking up simultaneously every day. Maintain this routine on the weekends as well.
  • Try to avoid using your phone or any digital gadget that emits blue light for at least one hour before going to bed.
  • Even though horror movies and gruesome content can be a treat to watch for some people. But remember that such content can cause you to have more nightmares during sleep.
  • Try establishing a wind-down routine before bed. Opt for activities that are soothing and mentally comforting. These activities can be journaling or meditating.
  • Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. Try stacking on comfy pillows and keeping the room dark to add to a good night’s sleep. Also, keeping an optimal room temperature can benefit your sleeping routine.

Does the position you sleep in affect your dreams?

There are a lot of factors that affect our dreams and the kinds of dreams we have, but if sleeping positions affect your dreams or not is still something we are not quite sure of. Some researchers, however, have theorized a possibility of dreams being affected by the position the person sleeps in based on where pressure is applied and different physical sensations. The types of dreams a person has can differ based on which position the person sleeps in.

One study suggests that people who sleep on their left side are more prone to nightmares, while those who sleep on their stomachs are more prone to vivid and erotic dreams. However, there is a limitation to this study as it is based on self-reported data. Such researches are prone to error; thus, we can’t rely on them entirely.

For example, it is seen that different people sleep by altering positions throughout the night without being aware of it. In addition, prior research suggests that the stages of sleep and time spent in each stage are not affected by the different sleeping positions. Overall, more effective research based on solid reasoning needs to be done to find any connection between sleeping positions and the types of dreams we have.

Do dreams have an impact on our everyday life?

There is still a need for a lot of research that needs to be done on how dreams can impact our daily lives. But it’s still a common observation that the kind of dreams we see when we are snoozing has a significant impact on how our mood and tone of the day throughout the following day. Following are some of the major ways dreams can impact our everyday lives.

  • Healthy dreams can indicate that we had a good night of sleep. And a good night of sleep facilitates our brain activity by making us think in an effective manner; in addition, it ensures that we can maintain a good mood throughout the day. Another bonus of a good night’s sleep is that we look physically attractive by looking healthy.
  • People who remember their dreams show a higher level of creativity in comparison to those who don’t remember their dreams. Creativity can also be increased by incorporating the dreams we see and the creativity our dreams hold into our practical lives.
  • Dreams can help us think about the impossible and can even help us generate new ideas on how we can change the course of our lives. In short, dreams can open new horizons of thinking for us.
  • It is found that people who remember their dreams have better memory consolidation, and it is easier for them to remember important information.
  • A negative side of dreaming is that people that are suffering from mental disorders like PTSD or anxiety can suffer from elevated symptoms of their disease. Nightmares can act as fuel and further ignite their traumas.


Those weird and evocative dreams we see at night leave a lasting imprint on our brains. We might even be left muttering to ourselves in the morning what did we just see? All those dreams take place during the REM stage of our sleep cycle. But it’s worth noting that dreams occur not only in the REM stage but also in other stages.

We are susceptible to forgetting the dreams we see in our other stages of sleep, but that doesn’t mean we do not see dreams in those other stages. But if your dreams are becoming a source of trouble for you and are becoming a source of disturbance in your daily day-to-day activities, then you should try consulting your health care provider or, even better, a professional sleep doctor to help you with your condition.

In addition, learning about what stage of sleep you dream in and do dreams impact sleep quality can help us better understand the mechanism of our sleeping patterns, making us aware of the different ways we can better our sleep quality and ensure a productive and active day full of positivity. We’ve probably heard this advice way too often that a good night’s sleep ensures a good day ahead thus, if we sleep comfortably, we can lead a better and more successful life.