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Sleep Disorders

Suddenly Remembering Dreams



Growing up I`ve always had very vivid dreams, horrible nightmares and sometimes even astro projected. I would feel all the emotions of the dream and they would feel very real. It seemed to all stop after I had my kids. I couldn`t even remember my dreams or felt like I wasn`t dreaming at all. It was a very big change from what I was used to experiencing. Just recently, I`ve started having vivid dreams again that I remember. They`re wierd dreams too. I don`t take any medications at all, and I can`t think of anything that has changed or is different. I`m just wondering what can cause you to stop and start dreaming?


Dreaming is the most intriguing component of normal sleep. Throughout history, dreams were considered as a communication from higher powers or a window to the future. In subsequent years, interpretation of dreams had been considered as a way to provide an understanding of the individual personality and tendencies. Most recently, research has suggested that dreams help us to take day-time experiences and place them in long-term storage, or another way of putting it, dreaming may be important for making memories. While none of these concepts has been conclusively proven (though increasing data suggest that the most recent theory is probably, at least in part, correct), dreams and dream recollection remain an area of interest and concern.

Dreaming occurs in a stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This stage of sleep recurs several times in a night of normal sleep. Therefore, dreaming occurs every night for most individuals. In contrast, our ability to recall dreams is highly variable and depends on a number of factors. A common cause of dream recall is awakening at a time of sleep that is close to the time of the dream. However, it is not mandatory that one awakens during the night for dream recall to occur. Many individuals report vivid recollection of their dreams in the morning without much sleep disturbance. Some individuals simply have good dream recall and others do not. Sometimes ruminating over dreams and their content and meaning can propagate their recurrence and may create a cycle of recurrent dreams.

Of interest, certain sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea), recurrent fragmentation or awakening from sleep (such as occurs when caring for newborns and small children), and some medications (some antidepressants), can alter the sleep stages and decrease or eliminate completely the occurrence of REM sleep. When this happens, dreams may not be remembered, or, in some cases, not occur at all. Conversely, there are conditions that may cause excessive dream recall, and these include sleep disruption, effects of medications and drugs, mood disorders, and medical conditions. Hormonal changes in women are also important factors in dream occurrence due to the hormonal effect on REM sleep.

When vivid dreams are associated with discomfort, unpleasant emotion, or fear they may be classified as "nightmare disorder." The recurrence rate of vivid dreams, the context of the dreams, and the concern of the patient about the dreams are all factors that make a recurrent vivid dream more of a nightmare. It is not mandatory that one awakens from sleep for the dream to become a nightmare.

Nightmares can be promoted by the use of certain medications, including antidepressants, by changing the stages of sleep and increasing the duration of the dreaming stage (REM sleep). Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety disorders have similar effects. Additionally, alcohol, and recreational drugs can promote nightmares via different mechanisms. Sleep disorders may cause excessive dream recall or nightmares by disrupting the stages of sleep and promoting frequent arousals. These disorders include obstructive sleep apnea and periodic limb movement of sleep. Medical disorders that can cause disruption of sleep include gastroesophageal reflux and arthritic pain. Absent any other identifiable causes of nightmares, the patient is considered as having a "nightmare disorder."

It's certainly possible that, in your case, your dream recall may be directly related to either your caring for small children and/or hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or aging. If the dreams are concerning to you, you should consider an evaluation by a Sleep Specialist. Until you can seek additional help, some general methods that may help you with your dreams include:

Additional information regarding sleep, and a listing of sleep centers near you, is available through the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University