Are you tired? Are you struggling to stay asleep, or you sleep but wake up feeling exhausted? If you are, the likelihood is that it is your dreams that are to blame. If you want to know why we dream, why too much dreaming makes you tired and how to stop it, then read on. 



Dreaming uses a lot of energy


As mammals, we have to dream to be healthy and we all dream every night, even if we don’t remember. Dreaming provides a very specific function for us, but it uses a vast amount of our energy. 

Ideally we would dream around 20-25% of the night. The rest would be made up of other stages, the bulk of which is slow brain wave restorative sleep. This slow brain wave sleep is where we recharge energy levels and where we renew and repair cells and tissue. We wake from this kind of sleep feeling refreshed and energised. Dream sleep on the other hand takes up more energy than simply being awake.  So if we’re dreaming much more than usual, we’ll wake up feeling more tired than when we went to bed! 



Why do we dream? 


We now have a very strong idea of what dreaming does for us. We have known for a long time that dreaming was essential, but not why we did it. Thanks to the work of Joe Griffin, one of the founders of Human Givens therapy, we have a greater understanding.   

Joe Griffin’s research

Joe deduced that we dreamed in order to close emotional ‘loops’ that were unresolved during the previous 24 hours. He spent many months waking at night and recording his dreams. Reviewing his research he realised that he often dreamt about things that had happened the previous day. Having had an argument with his wife one day, he fully expected to dream about it. However, he didn’t, and he worked out that the difference with the argument is that it was resolved. They both said what they wanted to say and they were able to draw a line under it.  

He realised that the dreams were to close off and resolve situations that were still open. For example we may have a situation at work and be angry with our boss. It may not be appropriate, or a good idea perhaps, to tell your boss exactly what you think of him. However, your emotional brain will have an expectation of how it would like that situation to play out.  Therefore, you will dream a version of this event that allows you to close off this emotional expectation. Our brain uses metaphors to represent the situation using other elements from the day before, such as from a film. This means it is not a direct copy of the event, and accounts for some of the weirder elements in our dreams!  



What happens if we’re dreaming too much? 


Not all sleep is the same. We need slow wave sleep to be physically healthy, but we also need dream sleep to be mentally healthy. Ideally we would seamlessly move from one sleep cycle to the next with a healthy proportion of dream sleep. But, if we are highly emotional during the day, angry, or sad, or anxious, we will need to dream more. As the proportion of dream sleep rises, then we naturally have less of that restorative sleep that we need.

As we have said, dreaming uses more energy than being awake, and if you dream too much, you will find that you wake frequently. Your brain will rouse you from sleep if your energy levels are dropping. This accounts for the kind of broken sleep that tends to accompany a night of extensive dreaming. And of course, waking directly from a dream is often accompanied by the emotion from that dream. Which means, you may find you’re waking up feeling anxious or angry. 

Dream sleep not only takes up too much energy, it also saps our motivation. This means that we not only feel exhausted, but we struggle to find the energy to get going. For example, you might find you can’t be bothered to meet with friends or go to the gym. Ultimately, this will have a knock-on effect on your emotional needs, if you’re not socialising or exercising and can lead to mental health issues. 



So how can we dream less? 


If you are going through a period of extensive dreaming and you’re waking up exhausted, then your focus needs to be on what is happening in your days, rather than your nights. Remember, it’s the emotional thoughts we have during the day that we need to dream out at night. The more emotional thoughts, the more dreams! 

Perhaps, your day is filled with anxious thoughts, stress, or anger. Often when we are emotional, we can think of something and then go off into an emotional thought spiral.  And if we wake up feeling exhausted, then we’re already more emotional that day and it’s harder to be rational. So you might be more snappy, or tearful – not a good recipe for a peaceful night’s sleep. This creates a cycle of poor sleep and difficult, emotional days. 


So what can we do about it?  


Things that limit the negative thoughts we have during the day, are hugely beneficial to sleep quality. Activities such as exercise, mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises, keep us out of our emotional brain. Things will still happen that raise your emotional levels – people will annoy you, or you may have moments of sadness. But if you are calm and rational, it will be easier to cope with these feelings when they occur. This will limit the power that these thoughts have, and the amount of time you spend with them. This means you won’t need to dream so much, and you’ll be able to get the right balance of sleep back. 



I hope you have found this information about dreaming and sleep helpful. As always, please share if you know someone else who would benefit from reading it. For more information and useful downloads, head over to our website.

With very best wishes


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