Does Mental Health Affect our Dreams?

By Rayan Warsama

Dreams are a worldwide human experience that can be described as a state of consciousness portrayed by sensory, imaginative and emotional occurrences during sleep. Dreams represent a collection of thoughts, emotions, struggles, events, people or places that are relevant to the person in some way. 

Why do we dream? 

  • To process our feelings
  • Review our memories
  • Express our deepest desires
  • To figure out problems. 

One widely held theory about the purpose of dreams is that they help you store important memories and things you’ve learnt. They  get rid of unimportant memories  and sort through complicated thoughts and feelings.

Most dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which we cycle through frequently during the night. Sleep studies show our brain waves are mostly as active during REM cycles as they are when we’re awake. Experts believe the brainstem generates REM sleep and the forebrain generates dreams.

The five stages of the sleep cycles 

1.Light Sleep

Muscle activity slows down, your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. 

2.Non rem sleep 

The brain activity, breathing, and heart slows down, body temperature drops and eye movement stops.

3.Deep sleep

Brain starts to generate slow delta waves. 

4.Very deep sleep

Muscle activity is limited.

5.Rem sleep

Brain waves speed up and dreams occur. Heart rate increases.

Non rem sleep is when a person falls asleep and then moves from a light sleep into a deep sleep. This is when a person’s brain activity, breathing, and heart rate slow down, body temperature drops, muscles relax, and eye movements stop. 

When you enter REM sleep, brain activity increases again meaning sleep is not as deep. The activity levels are like when you’re awake. That’s why REM sleep is the stage where you’ll have intense dreams.

Types of dream:

Recurring dreams

A dream which is experienced repeatedly over a long period. They can be pleasant or nightmarish and unique to the person and their experiences.


The stream of consciousness that detaches from current, external tasks when attention drifts to a more personal and internal direction.

Lucid dreams

A type of dream in which the dreamer becomes aware that they are dreaming while dreaming. The dreamer may gain some control over the dream characters or environment.


A disturbing dream associated with negative feelings, such as anxiety or fear that awakens you.

The most common dreams include dreams about teeth. Dreams of teeth falling out may symbolise anxiety, insecurity, or loss. Clenching your jaw during sleep may also take a part in dreaming about your teeth. Dreams are often reflective of your own life circumstances and emotions so meanings can vary from person to person. 

Being attacked: These kinds of dreams are very often about unresolved internal conflict but can also be to investigate what it means to do harm or be harmed psychologically. Dreams about being attacked often relate to feelings of your own vulnerability.

Being chased: This dream could mean that you’re anxious about something, experiencing heightened and ongoing stress or worried about an upcoming event.

Falling: Dreams about falling may reflect feelings of incapability or a sense that your life is out of control.

Can’t escape: It is a shocking experience, making you feel there is no escape no matter what you do. These dreams usually happen because of uncontrollable feelings or situations you may be experiencing.

Flying: Flying in a dream can symbolise a sense of freedom and liberation meaning breaking free from limitations, constraints or burdens. It signifies a desire for more independence and the ability to achieve more.

There are three types of nightmares people can experience:

Idiopathic nightmares are imaginative dream sequences that are not the result of trauma.

Recurrent nightmares are nightmares that repeat on a semi frequent basis.

Post traumatic nightmares are portrayed by intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks of past traumatic events. This may be associated with significant anxiety and being more reactive to your environment.

Mental health can impact the content and frequency of dreams. Mental health surrounds how a person thinks, behaves and feels. The content of dreams is often drawn from these experiences. People with depression tend to have nightmares and people with anxiety disorders also often suffer from bad dreams. Studies have shown that symptoms of anxiety are related to negative dream effects compared to people with a peaceful mind who experience positive dream effects. Also, individuals who have witnessed something traumatic may experience repetitive nightmares of the same event. Dreams of unexpected memories e.g. repeated physical injury and dreams with bizarre or violent imagery could indicate future illnesses. On the other hand, people with good mental health may have more positive dreams.

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