Sleep Apnea and the Dream Cycle

Summary: Dreams may be necessary for good health, giving the brain a chance to relax and clean itself. If we don’t get a good night’s sleep, does that mean that we don’t have a healthy brain? If a patient is suffering from sleep apnea and wakes frequently in the night, is that disruptive to the health of the brain? This article talks about this possibility and about disturbing dreams that are not an indication of a good sleep.

Do you remember your dreams? Perhaps you have noticed a difference in dreams depending on how well you slept, or perhaps, you can remember something from your dream, but as you struggle to recall it.

Sometimes, a disturbing dream can leave you disoriented through the day and perhaps reluctant to go to sleep at night. It is not completely understood why living creatures dream, whether it is something we do to keep the brain active, but dreams seem inevitable, if not useful.

However, a recent study suggests that if you have sleep apnea, you might be less able to recall dreams than people who don’t suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Most of the time, 71.4 per cent of those who don’t have obstructive sleep apnea can recall nightmares or dreams, while only 43.2 per cent of people who have obstructive sleep apnea can recall their dreams. One theory may be that a person with sleep apnea wakes more often, and doesn’t fall into sleep as soundly as someone who doesn’t wake frequently, and so is always on the edge of dreamland.

When you sleep less, you may have fewer dreams, but those you have are closer to the surface, so they may be more disturbing. One reason for the increase in nightmares is the abnormal levels of oxygen saturation that those with obstructive sleep apnea often experience. They are unable to breathe and so the brain jerks them awake with perhaps a sensation of strangulation, suffocation, falling or drowning because your airways are not getting required oxygen. You are likely to wake up, but the sensation may be included in your dream.

There are two main types of sleep, one where the brain is quiet, called non-REM, and the other where it is active, called REM. Most of the dreaming is done in the REM stage, the fourth stage of sleep, which usually occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. In deep sleep, the brain becomes active again, but the body is relaxed. This is why this sleep phase is also known as paradoxical sleep, the paradox between an active mind and an immobile body. Sleep goes through the cycle (not always in the same exact order) about four or five times every night. This is an important phase in the health cycle, it is necessary to perform well in the daytime and for the memory and the brain to work. If there is a disruption in deep healing sleep, the body may not be getting the rest it needs.

If you think that you are missing out on sleep, or that you have a poor quality of sleep, see a doctor or sleep specialist. A good night sleep is important and if your sleep apnea is affecting your rest, there are a number of complications that this will have on your health, your daily routine, your family and your workday. Work on your overall health during both your waking and sleeping hours and your quality of life will improve. If you think you might need assistance to stay asleep and keep breathing all night, see a sleep specialist and discuss the machines and therapy that can keep your airways open and working all night.

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