You might find discussing the meaning of dreams fascinating, but dream analysis has long been regarded by medics as no more meaningful than astrology.
However, scientists now think dreams may, in fact, provide vital clues about our health – and even give early warnings of conditions years before physical symptoms appear.
Exactly why we dream still mystifies scientists – and provokes fierce debate. What is known is that most of us have around four to six dreams a night, but we remember only around two or three a week.
The reason for this is that we recall a dream only if we wake up in the middle of it; if we continue sleeping when the dream ends, then we have forgotten it for ever.
Women seem to remember their dreams much more frequently than men, possibly because they tend to be lighter sleepers.
We don’t dream all night. The brain starts to create them only when we switch into a particular type of ‘dreaming sleep’ called rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep.
And because this is a very light form of sleep, we wake easily during dreams.
We have this type of sleep around four times a night, with the first bout starting around 90 minutes after we drop off.
So what is the latest thinking about dreams and their meanings? Whether you’re dreaming more than usual, or having nightmares or strangely vivid dreams, we look at what this might reveal about your health . . .
POSSIBLE CAUSES: Beta-blockers, heart conditions, migraine or sleep deprivation.
The blood pressure pills beta-blockers are notorious for ‘quite nasty dreams’, says Professor Jim Horne, a sleep expert from Loughborough University.
These widely used medications help widen blood vessels, but experts believe they may also indirectly alter the balance of certain brain chemicals, which then triggers nightmares.
Bad dreams can also be linked to a dicky heart, according to a study of more than 6,000 people published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine. This found that suffering from an irregular heartbeat increases the risk of nightmares threefold, while suffering from chest pain increases it sevenfold.
This could be because people with heart problems are more likely to suffer from breathing problems, which may lower oxygen levels in the brain. see more