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How Long Do Dreams Last?

Tyler Joseph (TJ) Thomas

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Dreams have a way of distorting your sense of time. An adult can dream between four and six times a night, and every dream lasts between 5 and 45 minutes. Experts believe we only dream for about 90 minutes every night, although this number is just an estimate.

There is no way to determine if a person is sleeping apart from our bodily responses while at rest: rapid eye movement, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, quick shallow breaths, fluctuating body temperatures.

In this article, we discuss the sleep cycle and when you dream. We also explore why we don’t remember our dreams and why we dream.

What is a Dream?

For the sake of clarity, when we say the word dream, we’re referring to the vivid dreams people experience during REM sleep or Rapid Eye Movement where the body is paralyzed, but the brain continues to have active brain waves.

The truth is, we don’t know why we dream.

Many people stand by Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams, which suggests dreams are our brain’s way of warning us of something going on in our real lives. A recurring bad dream could indicate there is something wrong in your real life, and different dreams with recurring themes can show a subconscious desire, motivation, or thought.

Mostly, you shouldn’t worry about recurring dreams; however, recurring negative vivid dreams can cause sleep deprivation and other health problems such as day time sleepiness, mood problems, not wanting to sleep, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts.

Psychology Today states some scientists believe dreams exist to “process intense emotion” or consolidate a day’s information and store it for long term memory. Calvin S. Hall, Ph.D., collected over 50,000 dreams from college students and determined it was common for a sleeper to experience intense emotion when they dream.

Sleep Cycle

Sleep cycles last about 90 minutes. An adult should get about five to six sleep cycles a night for a total of seven to nine hours of sleep.

In a sleep cycle, you go through three NREM (or non-REM) sleep stages before getting to one REM stage of sleep, which is when you dream.

The first stage of NREM sleep takes place a few minutes after falling asleep and lasts for about five to ten minutes. During this stage, your eye movement will slow, and your body will fall into a relaxed state. Stage one is the light form of sleep. Quiet noises, movement, and bright light can wake you.

During the second stage of NREM sleep, you are harder to wake. You could come back to alertness if you were to hear a loud noise, although you would wake up feeling drowsy. During this stage, your brain activity slows down.

The third stage of NREM sleep marks the beginning of deep sleep. Your eyes are still, your muscles are inactive, and you won’t respond to stimuli within the room, making it harder to wake.

REM sleep makes up 20 percent of our sleep. REM sleep can last between 5 and 45 minutes, with each REM cycle longer than the last. Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a dream expert and author, said, “The first dream of the night is about five minutes long, and the last dream you have before awakening can be 45 minutes to an hour long.”

A sleeper in REM sleep won’t wake easily. Your muscles and eyes do not move during this stage, although your body is working to repair tissue damage.

Your brain remains active during REM sleep and functions as if you were awake, which is how we can dream.

Dream Recall

We dream about 20 percent of the time we sleep, yet some people remember their dream better than others— about 95% of sleepers forget their dreams. Sleep deprivation can greatly influence how much of your dream you remember, as lack of sleep decreases the time spent in REM sleep.

Lauri Loewenberg stated people prone to daydreaming, creative thinking, and introspection can recall their dreams. At the same time, those who are practical and focused tend to have difficulty remembering their dreams.

Interesting Facts About Sleep

  • Blind people may experience visual imagery in their dreams.
  • The paralysis experienced during REM sleep may carry over into wakefulness, which is a condition known as sleep paralysis.
  • Many of the same kinds of dreams are experienced by people from different walks of life and cultures. People often dream of someone chasing or attacking them, falling, arriving late, or flying.
  • Some people can control their dreams. This is called lucid dreaming, which is when the sleeper is caught in a brain state between REM sleep and wakefulness.
  • Daydreaming is a real thing. REM sleep isn’t needed—just an active imagination and contemplation.
  • When women dream, the characters populating their dreams are both men and women, while men mostly dream of men.

Conclusion

There are more theories about dreaming than there are facts. If you can’t remember your dreams but want to, we suggest going to bed with a sleep journal on your bedside table and focus on getting good sleep; however, there’s a chance you won’t remember all your dream content as you can have an average of four to six dreams in a single night.

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