Do stress dreams interfere with the quality of my sleep?
There are still lots of unknowns when it comes to the science of dreaming, so the answer remains unclear. We do know that most people spend about two hours a night dreaming, and most dreams happen during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when your brain is more active than it is during the deeper, more restorative stages that occur during NREM (nonrapid eye movement) sleep. Having frequent anxiety dreams is usually a sign of real-life stress, but the dreams themselves probably don’t disturb the brain’s sleep patters, research suggests.
However, trauma or severe stress can affect how easily you fall asleep and your ability to stay asleep, which can have an impact on your functioning during the day. Try to decompress before hitting the pillow. You know the drill: Turn off screens (phone, laptop, tablet, TV) an hour before bed, move through a few yoga poses, maybe take a relaxing bath. If, despite these techniques, the mix of stress and poor sleep is still making you feel constantly tired or irritable, you may want to consider discussing the roots of your worries with a therapist.
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Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.