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You are getting sleepy, very sleepy. When your head hits the pillow it’s lights out for the brain and body, right? Not if you consider the brain cells that must fire to produce the sometimes vivid and sometimes downright haunted dreams that take place during the rapid-eye-movement stage of your sleep. Why do some people have nightmares while others really spend their nights in bliss? Like sleep, dreams are mysterious phenomena. But as scientists are able to probe deeper into our minds, they are finding some of those answers. Here's some of what we know about what goes on in dream land.
Dreams are meaningfulSlide 2 of 15
Dreams are meaningful
If you dream about winning the lottery or having an accident, should you prepare? If you answered "yes," you’re not alone, according to a study published in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers ran six experiments, finding that not only do we put stock in our dreams, we also judge dreams that fit with our own beliefs as more meaningful than ones that go against the grain.
"Psychologists' interpretations of the meaning of dreams vary widely," study researcher Carey Morewedge, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a statement. "But our research shows that people believe their dreams provide meaningful insight into themselves and their world."
In one study, 182 commuters in Boston imagined one of four scenarios had happened the night before a scheduled trip: national threat level was raised to orange; they consciously thought about their plane crashing; they dreamed about a plane crash; or a real plane crash occurred on the route they planned to take. Results showed a plane-crash dream was more likely to affect travel plans than either thinking about a crash or a government warning, while the crash dream also produced a similar level of anxiety as did an actual crash.
In another study, 270 men and women completed an online survey in which they were asked to remember a past dream they had about a person they knew. People ascribed more importance to pleasant dreams about a person they liked than they did a person they didn't like. And they were more likely to report a negative dream as more meaningful if it was about a person they disliked than one about a friend.Slide 3 of 15
Violent dreams can be warning signSlide 4 of 15
Violent dreams can be warning sign
As if nightmares weren't bad enough, a rare sleep disorder causes people to act out their dreams, sometimes with violent thrashes, kicks and screams. Such violent dreams may be an early sign of brain disorders down the line, including Parkinson's disease and dementia, according to research published online July 28, 2010, in the journal Neurology. The results suggest the incipient stages of these neurodegenerative disorders might begin decades before a person, or doctor, knows it. [Read full story]Slide 5 of 15
Night owls have more nightmaresSlide 6 of 15
Night owls have more nightmares
Staying up late has its perks (as long as you can hit the snooze button the next morning), but light dreams is not one of them. Research published in 2011 in the journal Sleep and Biological Rhythms, revealed that night owls are more likely than their early-bird counterparts to experience nightmares.
In the study 264 university students rated how often they experienced nightmares on a scale from "0," (meaning "never") to "4" (meaning "always"). The stay-up-late types scored, on average, a 2.10, compared with the morning types who averaged a 1.23. The researchers said the difference was a significant one, however, they aren’t sure what's causing a link between sleep habits and nightmares. Among their ideas is the stress hormone cortisol, which peaks in the morning right before we wake up, a time when people are more prone to be in REM, or dream, sleep. If you’re still sleeping at that time, the cortisol rise could trigger vivid dreams or nightmares, the researchers speculate. [Read full story]Slide 7 of 15
Dreams help us solve puzzlesSlide 8 of 15