This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
It probably comes as no surprise that your dreams may mirror the status of your mental health. (Classic example: A stressful week at work results in dreaming that you showed up at the office without pants on.) But what you may not realize is that your dreams can also point to physical health issues. Discover possible health conditions dreams can tap into.
Low Blood Sugar
If you’re a diabetic, having vivid dreams may indicate a sudden drop in blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia. A medication switch or a mistake in insulin dosage can cause hypoglycemia, and contribute to these ultra-lifelike dreams. To help prevent low blood sugar, focus on filling up with protein in the hours before bed rather than sugary foods that may cause a “crash.”
An Oncoming Cold or Illness
If you find yourself waking up from a nightmare in a cold sweat, it could be a sign that you have a cold or an illness coming on; feverish dreams can serve as the warning to the rest of your body. Here’s how it works: Your immune system regularly goes through a system check, and if it notices something amiss, it sounds an alarm. That alarm causes biochemical materials, called pyrogens, to flow through your bloodstream and eventually reach the temperature regulation zone in your brain. In REM sleep, your body may have difficulty regulating temperature. Vivid dreams during REM sleep combined with the increase in pre-illness pyrogens result in a sweat-inducing dream experience.
If you’ve gone months without remembering a dream, it could signal that something is interrupting your sleep cycle. Because most dreaming takes place in REM sleep, a lack of dreaming indicates that your REM sleep has been disrupted. One possible cause: Sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is briefly and frequently interrupted, causing the brain to wake up the body in order to restart breathing. People with sleep apnea may not even realize they’re waking up several times throughout the night, but it’s important to address the issue, since the condition is linked to other physical issues, like heart disease. Speak to your doctor or sleep specialist if you suspect you have sleep apnea.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress or anxiety can also play a role in dreams. If you’re stressed, you might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, which can lead to less REM sleep and therefore less dreaming. Similarly, recurring stress-related dreams can mirror stressful real-life situations. Common stress dream topics include falling, teeth falling out, and being naked in public, among others. A sleep specialist or your general practitioner can help you determine the underlying causes of your stress so you can adopt practices that will improve your sleep quality and quality of life.