- If you are having weird dreams, it may be due to stress, anxiety, or sleep deprivation.
- To stop having weird dreams, try managing stress levels and sticking to a sleep routine.
- If you wake up from a weird dream, use deep breathing or a relaxing activity to fall back asleep.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Unexpected life events, high levels of stress, and changes in routine can all impact our dreams – making them weirder, more vivid, and more memorable.
Here’s what could be causing your weird dreams and how you can better manage them.
Why am I having weird dreams?
Our bodies cycle through different stages of sleep each night. Most of your dreaming will occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which occurs about 90 minutes after you fall asleep.
“Dreams during REM sleep are often bizarre, vivid, or whimsical, and are often tied to emotions,” says Stephanie Stahl, MD, a sleep medicine physician at Indiana University Health.
The purpose of dreams is still a bit of a mystery to the scientific community, though there is some evidence as to why you may be having especially weird or vivid dreams:
- You’re processing new information. Research suggests that dreaming plays a role in processing information you’ve taken in during the day, consolidating memories and sorting new knowledge. Specifically, Stahl says that if you are focused on one topic just before bedtime, there’s a higher likelihood that it will manifest in your dream. “If you are obsessively watching the news or scrolling through social media about the coronavirus close to bedtime, you may be more likely to have dreams related to the content of what you were looking at or the emotions you felt when doing these activities,” Stahl says.
- You’re working through your emotions. “There is evidence that dreams are the mind’s form of self-therapy,” says Alex Dimitriu, MD, psychiatrist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine. “We form memories, process experiences, as well as feelings when we sleep. REM or dream sleep is believed to be particularly important in the processing of emotions.” For example, higher levels of stress can cause an increase in REM sleep, which may lead to more vivid dreams. There is also a strong association between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the prevalence of nightmares.
- There’s a change in your routine. REM cycles become increasingly longer and deeper throughout the night, resulting in the deepest sleep just before you wake in the morning, says Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. If you’re sleeping later, you might be getting a bit more REM sleep than usual, increasing the likelihood of experiencing weird dreams. And the opposite may also be true: a lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can result in more vivid dreams.
How to manage weird dreams
Most everyone has strange dreams from time to time, Dimitriu says, and they are usually not a cause for concern.
In fact, there a few strategies you can try for preventing weird dreams or calming yourself down after they occur:
- Reduce stress. How you spend your time right before bed can impact your dreams once you fall asleep, Stahl says. So try to refrain from activities that might make you anxious or get your mind racing, like watching a scary movie or reading the news. To get better sleep overall, you may also want to incorporate stress-management strategies like journaling, regular exercise, meditation, or talking with a therapist.
- Relaxation techniques. If a disturbing dream does wake you in the middle of the night, it can be difficult to fall back asleep. “After an unsettling dream, relaxing, deep breathing, focusing on reducing your heart rate, and avoiding rumination about the dream are beneficial,” Stahl says. You could also try occupying your mind with something else, like reading a book, until you start to feel drowsy again.
- Try dream rehearsal. A method known as “dream rehearsal” is another way to help manage or prevent strange dreams from wrecking your sleep, Dimitriu says. This process involves writing down the story of the bad dream and then describing an alternative or happier ending, which can “Set the intention to have a dream end in a positive way, just before bed,” Dimitru says.
- Stick to a sleep routine. Having good sleep hygiene can help you sleep better, Dasgupta says, and potentially avoid bad dreams. This means that you should aim to fall asleep and wake up around the same time every day, which can help regulate your circadian rhythms and avoid over-sleeping or sleep deprivation.
Most of the time, weird dreams are a result of a change in routine, or a particularly stressful or emotional period in your life. You can try relaxation techniques before bed and a consistent sleep routine to get rid of weird dreams.
If you continue to experience disturbing dreams or nightmares that make it difficult for you to get a good night’s rest, it’s worth discussing your sleeping habits and stress levels with a doctor.