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08 September 2023

This is why you have weird dreams in the heatwave

08 September 2023

Everyone has a theory about their dreams and the science or meaning behind them. And when the weather hots up, the more bizarre they tend to get.

Dreams are a fascinating and enigmatic phenomenon that occur during sleep, encompassing a vast realm of imaginative experiences,” says sleep expert and CEO of MattressNextDay, Martin Seeley. “They are a collection of thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions that unfold within the theatre of our minds.”

Why do we dream?

When we sleep, our brain enters a complex state where it engages in various cognitive processes, explains Seeley, including memory consolidation, problem-solving and emotional regulation.

“Dreams are thought to emerge from these processes, weaving together fragments of memories, desires, fears, and subconscious thoughts into a narrative or non-linear sequence,” adds Seeley. “And they can be surreal, vivid, or mundane, blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy.”

While the precise purpose and meaning of dreams remains a subject of exploration and debate, Seeley says they can serve as a portal into the inner workings of our minds: “Providing a canvas for exploration, processing of emotions, and glimpses into the subconscious depths of our psyche.”

Why do we dream more when it’s hot?

Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, says: “When the weather is hot, it can disrupt our sleeping patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep in the first place – and causes us to wake more often during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phase.”

REM sleep is where we experience intense dreaming, explains Artis – so waking during or at the end of this cycle can mean we are more likely to remember our dreams.

“Dreams happen regularly, but are often forgotten and our mind’s way of unpacking the day’s events, dealing with stress and sorting through our day-to-day thoughts,” notes Artis.

Our body heat generally peaks in the afternoon then starts to drop over an evening to prepare us for sleep, says Artis. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is produced when this happens.“An ideal temperature is around 16-18°C and anything around the 24°C mark can cause restlessness,” says Artis. “So, it’s no surprise that when we’re experiencing a heatwave with temperatures reaching over 30°C, it affects our sleep.”

Can a heatwave really make dreams more surreal?

The connection between heatwaves and the content or nature of dreams is not fully understood. However, there may be a few possible explanations if your dreams seem weirder when the weather heats up – although Seeley points out these are all speculative.

First off, he agrees it may have a lot to do with the fact we’re less comfortable and waking more when it’s hot.

“These frequent awakenings can interrupt the normal sleep cycle and result in a higher probability of remembering dreams, including the more unusual or vivid ones,” he notes. “So, during a heatwave, the increased frequency of waking up during the night might contribute to a greater recall of strange or funky dreams.”

Secondly, the body’s physiological response to heat may influence brain activity, he adds: “Heat can affect neurotransmitter levels, such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in regulating mood and emotions. These alterations in neurotransmitter activity might impact the content and emotional tone of dreams, potentially leading to more surreal or bizarre experiences.”

Psychological factors could also play a role. Heatwaves can cause restlessness and increased stress levels in some individuals. Seeley adds: “Stress and emotional fluctuations can manifest in dreams as strange or unusual scenarios, as the mind processes and attempts to make sense of these experiences.”

Can we stop strange heatwave dreams happening?

While it’s probably not possible to completely control the content of our dreams, there are certain strategies you can try to promote better sleep – and potentially reduce the likelihood of experiencing a restless night and unusual dreams during hot weather.

Create a cool sleep environment: “Use fans, air conditioning, or open windows to circulate cool air in your bedroom – and consider using lightweight, breathable bedding materials,” says Seeley.

Stay hydrated: “Drink enough water throughout the day to prevent dehydration, especially during hot weather,” he continues. “Being adequately hydrated can help maintain a balanced sleep cycle.”

Practice relaxation techniques: “Engage in activities that promote relaxation before bed, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or taking a warm bath,” suggests Seeley. “These practices can help calm your mind and promote a more restful sleep.”

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