Posted on Wednesday, March 15th, 2023 at 6:00 am    

What are dreams? The mental images and movies that play out in our heads each night are still relatively mysterious. One thing we do know about dreams is that the state of sleep known as REM sleep, when you experience the most vivid dreams, is vital to physical and mental health. When we can’t achieve this state of sleep nightly, it has a detrimental impact on our well-being.

Sleep apnea significantly affects a person’s ability to get enough good-quality sleep. Now, studies indicate sleep apnea impacts more than just the quality of your sleep. It can affect dreams, turning sweet slumber into a nightmare.

REM Sleep and Dreams

Most dreams occur during the rapid eye movement or REM stage of sleep. REM sleep is closely associated with dreaming and memory consolidation. Beyond dreaming, REM sleep is crucial for brain development, emotional processing, and brain functions.

During REM sleep, the eyes rapidly move back and forth, the heart rate increases, and breathing becomes irregular. Unlike other sleep stages, when brain waves slow down, the brain is highly active during REM sleep. Most people experience their first REM sleep cycle about 60 to 90 minutes after they fall asleep.

Overall, there are four sleep stages. The first three non-REM sleep stages are stage 1 light sleep, stage 2 light sleep, and stage 3 deep sleep. The fourth stage is REM sleep. All stages combined make up one sleep cycle. Most people move through four to six sleep cycles per night.

The Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Dreams

Sleep apnea is characterized by interruptions in a person’s breathing during the night. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most commonly-occurring form of sleep apnea. It occurs when an individual’s airway becomes blocked by the tongue, improperly relaxed throat muscles, or the soft palate. Often, during an episode of sleep apnea, a person wakes up completely, or their sleep cycle is interrupted. When a person’s sleep cycles are continually interrupted, they may rarely enter the REM sleep stage. Less REM sleep means fewer dreams. It can also cause other problems.

Some studies suggest those with sleep apnea are more likely to experience nightmares, although the reason for this is still unclear. It could be due to the lack of oxygen or disruption of a person’s overall sleep cycle. Experiencing disturbing dreams can cause anxiety in some people, making bedtime stressful instead of relaxing.

However, nightmares aren’t the only side effect of sleep apnea. Disrupting REM sleep can interfere with memory formation and disrupt the brain’s ability to generate new cells. Sleep deprivation can also lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Contact Silent Night Therapy for Better Sleep Today

Are you worried about how sleep apnea is impacting your health? At Silent Night Therapy, we want to help you get a better night’s rest. Call our office today at 631-983-2463 to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced sleep professionals. Better dreams and better sleep are only a phone call away.