The dangerous rise of dream deprivation that’s wreaking havoc with our health

You’d have to be sleepwalking through life to not be aware of our chronic lack of sleep. Thanks to our smartphones keeping us switched on at all times of day and night, combined with toxic lifestyles and a societal attitude that conflates sleep with laziness, the whole world is officially sleep deprived.

Needless to say, it’s taking its toll. We all recognise how rubbish we feel after a particularly late or sleepless night; it’s impossible to concentrate, emotions are high and tears are almost inevitable.

And that’s just the immediate effects. Chronic lack of shut-eye has been shown to increase your risk of diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s, among a roster of psychological problems. But the problem appears to be much more complicated than we originally thought. We’re not just sleep deprived – we’re dream deprived.

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Thanks to an influx of eye-opening research, it appears that dreams aren’t just mere fantasy; they’re critical components to our overall health. According to the findings, it all comes down to the separate stages in the cycles of sleep. In each 90 – 120 minute cycle, there are non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) stages, when the muscles relax and breathing gets deeper. Next is the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which occurs towards end of the sleep cycle – and this is what dreams are made of.

During REM sleep, the eyes start to move beneath the lids, the muscles become paralysed and the brainwaves change frequency. The duration of each REM stage increases during every sleep cycle (so, if you sleep through four cycles in one night, you’ll enjoy the longest period of REM sleep during the final cycle). The dreams we have while in this stage are the crazy, vivid, fantastical dreams where everything and nothing makes sense. While they are always a little random, they’re more often than not rooted in reality, revisiting past events and involving people we have recently encountered.

A recent study by McGill University in Montreal has shown that these REM dreams are crucial to forming memories. Another study by the University of California shows a link between REM sleep and increased creativity, as well as being crucial for processing traumatic events.

The problem is, we’re not allowing ourselves to get to these long stages of REM sleep due to short nights, disrupted cycles thanks to alarm-clock awakenings and days fueled by caffeine. In fact, according to The Sleep Council, the average person in the UK gets a measly six hours and 35 minutes a night while the recommended amount is closer to eight hours, resulting in a sleep debt of around 10 hours every week.

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So, what’s the solution? For starters, limit your alcohol consumption and have at least four drink-free nights per week as alcohol suppresses REM sleep. Next up, ditch the alarm clock and invest in a wake-up lamp like the Lumie Bodyclock Luxe, which mimics the colour of a real sunrise to wake you naturally and regulate your sleep cycle over time. Finally, be strict with yourself and enforce a proper bedtime at reasonable hour to squeeze in as many sleep cycles as possible.

Still battling sleepless nights? Check out our failsafe five-step method to falling asleep.

The five-step method for falling asleep (even when you have the worst insomnia)

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