The science of weird dreams

The science of weird dreams

by Muhaimin X 09 Jan 2020

Most of us look forward to our dreams every night, and they are pretty much our very own version of Netflix when we sleep. Our dreams can be dramatic, morbid, chaotic, and sometimes downright hilarious.


Whether they're ones we look back on fondly or nightmares that trigger a cold sweat, you can never tell what you’re going to get once your eyelids fall shut. But why are there such inconsistent episodes for what we experience when we sleep? Here are five possible culprits:


1. You eat spicy foods before bed

The fiery rage of spicy food can trigger the very worst of nightmares. According to Robert S. Rosenberg, doctor of osteopathic medicine, board-certified sleep medicine specialist, and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, devouring anything spicy right before bed results in an increase in our metabolism and body temperature while sleeping. Our REM cycle gets affected due to the increase in brain activity.


2. You’re taking melatonin supplements

Melatonin supplement can come across as quite the boon when good quality sleep is hard to come by. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in North Carolina argues that using these increases the intensity of your dreams because your body is essentially making up for lost sleep. Currently, there are no fixed doses for melatonin supplements – it all depends on your weight, age and sensitivity to the supplement. A visit to a sleep doctor might be best for determining your recommended daily melatonin intake, especially since higher doses may lead to anxiety and irritability.


3. You watched TV before bed

Moving pictures are the biggest culprits to why our minds wander off to weird places while we’re asleep. Binging on your favourite shows just before bed time can lead to some pretty funky dreams as "our dreams come from our subconscious mind, so if you expose yourself to a TV show (or even a book) that has a strong emotional component for you personally, your mind may give it more significance and focus on it more, causing it to come out in your dreams," according to Steve Orma, Psy.D..


4. You didn’t sleep well the night before

There's a good chance that you'll experience a more intense dose of REM sleep the following night when you're sleep-deprived, known as REM rebound. This can also result in what is known as “lucid” dreams, where one feels like they’re in control of their actions during a dream sequence, as opposed to just being an observer.


5. You’re consistently stressed out

Dreams provide the best way to readjust one’s mood. Your brain deals with the stress and anxiety that you experience during the day at night. Outlandish dreams of fantastic proportions may be your brain's way of processing and working through negative emotions. A logical assumption would be that such wild fantasies are indicative of your mind trying to distance itself from reality. This act of escapism can have a restorative effect, similar to how a vacation relaxes an individual.


Everyone has had dreams that have left them going “huh” and scratching their heads, so that dream of you piloting the Millennium Falcon through the gumdrop forests of Bunnyworld isn’t really as uncommon as you’d think. At the very least, such dreams make for pretty interesting stories to tell when you meet up with your friends, if you can recall them that is!