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How long do dreams last and how many dreams do you have in a night?

How long do dreams last and how many dreams do you have in a night?Updated on August 31, 2021 | Published on August 20, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Johanna Lamm, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist

How Long Do Dreams Last & How many Dreams do You have in a Night?

Let me ask you a few questions: ‘How long do your dreams last?’ ‘Do you think people can remember their dreams?’ ‘Are you suffering from any sleep disorders?’

If you’re also curious to know the answers to these questions, you are at the right place.

Dreams often leave us puzzled. It is difficult to understand the dream themes and the dream content at times. 

You keep wondering the entire day if your dream actually had some meaning or was it just all based on random thoughts.

Even though the scientists are still finding the answer to “why do we dream”, we might have some concrete findings for…

Summary in Infographics

How Long Do Dreams Last & How many Dreams do You have in a Night
How Long Do Dreams Last & How many Dreams do You have in a Night

How long do dreams last?

SUMMARY
Dreams occur for almost 2 hours in a night, where a person dreams approximately 4 to 6 times.  

The length of a dream depends on an individual dream. It is difficult to predict how long you might be dreaming. But our experts have tried to study and provided an estimate as the answer to this question.

The study of the National Sleep Foundation mentions that a person can dream approximately four to six times in a night. This means a person spends around 2 hours a night dreaming.

How long does REM sleep last?

SUMMARY
In a sleep time of 8 hours, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is expected to be around 2 hours, i.e., a quarter of the total sleep duration.

We have two stages of sleep cycle: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. We can dream in both sleep cycles but we are likely to experience more vivid dreams in the REM phase.

Throughout the night, you keep fluctuating between the NREM sleep and the REM sleep. How does this happen? Your REM sleep stages occur every 1.5-2 hours. 

So, your body enters the REM stage after 90 minutes of you falling asleep. But you will remain in this REM stage for only 5 minutes.

Then, you shift to the NREM sleep where you get dreams that are quickly forgotten. After which, you enter the REM phase again. But this time you stay there for more time.

This way, if we calculate, in one night, if you sleep for around 8 hours, you have around 2 hours of REM sleep – that is a quarter of the whole night’s sleep.

How long do Nightmares last?

SUMMARY
There’s no definite answer to the duration of a nightmare. But people are most likely to experience it in the last third of the night, i.e., in the later cycles of REM sleep.

Nightmares are the bad dreams that often trigger negative emotions and can also disturb our sleep at night. According to the study conducted by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 50-85% of men and women have reported having nightmares.

We don’t have an exact answer to how long a nightmare lasts. But dream experts say that we experience most nightmares in the last third phase of REM sleep.

When compared between the two genders, it was found that women experience more nightmares than men. 

This is because they undergo more stress and anxiety. Continuous medication may also trigger nightmares.

There are also nightmare disorders that have been reported but these are very rare. Dream research reports that around 71% of people who have undergone bitter experiences in some part of their life, experience regular nightmares.

There are various sleep consultants who can give you medical advice on these problems. You can undergo therapies and different treatment options available to solve this problem.

How many dreams do you have a night?

SUMMARY
It’s not possible to estimate the number of dreams in a typical night as we forget most dreams on waking up.

You can never keep a count of how many dreams you have in a night. Why? Because you don’t remember your dreams.

You only remember some fragments of your dreams that occurred in your REM sleep. That’s why it is not possible to keep a count of the number of dreams per night.

How long do lucid dreams last?

SUMMARY
Lucid dreams also last as long as non-lucid dreams, i.e., about 5 to 20 minutes. However, some people experience lucid dreams only for a few seconds while some experience for more than an hour.

Lucid dreaming is when you can control your dreams. This is the phase when you’re completely aware that you’re dreaming and yet everything seems real. You can predict and control your dreams in this phase.

Lucid dreams are said to occur when you’re stuck between your REM sleep and being awake. Even though lucid dreams are rare, some people can have more lucid dreams than others. 

To attain lucidity, you need to practice various techniques so that you’re able to control the different parts of the brain.

Additionally, lucid dreaming makes you less anxious and enhances your creativity. It also develops your motor skills.

Our lucid dreams last as long as our non-lucid dreams i.e., 5-20 minutes long. For some, lucid dreams are only for a few seconds and some can experience lucid dreams even for an hour. This totally depends on your control over the brain.

How long does the average dream last?

SUMMARY
An average dream lasts approximately 10-20 minutes. Dreams are often shorter at the beginning of the night than towards the end.  

Whenever we talk of dreams, we talk about REM and NREM sleep. REM sleep is where we get our most dreams and the NREM is the phase when we are in deep sleep so we hardly remember anything.

Now, let’s understand how the sleep cycle works. A person enters the REM sleep after 90 minutes of falling asleep. 

So, a person is capable of dreaming only after 90 minutes. If we sleep for around 8-9 hours, then we undergo 5-6 cycles of REM sleep.

The first two cycles of REM sleep hardly last for 5 minutes. Then after, in every cycle, this time period keeps on increasing. As we age, our time span of REM sleep keeps decreasing.

So, ultimately, when we calculate the time duration, we know that the average dream lasts for hardly 10-20 minutes. The dreams are shorter in the first part of the night and with time, it keeps getting longer.

Why are some dreams longer than others?

SUMMARY
As the REM sleep increases by night, the duration of dreams also starts getting longer. This means the dreams you experience at the beginning of the night are shorter than those in the latter part of the night.

Some dreams are longer than others because of the REM sleep theory. As we discussed above, the time of REM sleep increases by the passing night. 

So, if you’re in your third REM cycle of the night, you’ll have a longer dream than the second REM cycle of the night.

Dreams also occur in the NREM sleep but they’re hardly remembered. REM dreams have more dream content and hold a narrative. Whereas dreams from NREM sleep are equivalent to our daytime thoughts.

There’s also a reason that while in the NREM phase, you’re in deep sleep so your memory is unable to recall dreams. 

But during the REM phase, you experience light sleep and that’s why you can remember the dreams.

As the night progresses, the time span of REM sleep also increases and that’s why the dreams you see in the latter part of the night are longer than the dreams at the beginning of the night.

How long does the sleep cycle work?

SUMMARY
Every sleep cycle is about 90 minutes long. This means, an adult experiences 5-6 sleep cycles in a sleep time of 7-9 hours.

Before getting into one REM sleep, a person undergoes three NREM sleep stages. In the first stage of NREM, which is just after a person falls asleep, the eyes move slowly and the body feels relaxed. 

This is the lightest form of sleep and lasts for around 5-10 minutes. Silent noises or some sort of light can also wake you up in this phase.

In the second NREM stage, it is difficult to wake a person. Only if you make some loud noise, a person wakes up but will still be drowsy. The brain responds very slowly.

Now, in the third stage of NREM, a person is in deep sleep. The eyes and muscles show no movement. Even if you do some activity in the same room as the person is sleeping, he would not be able to notice it.

If we talk about REM sleep, it lasts between 5-45 minutes. A dreamer wouldn’t wake easily in this phase. The eyes and muscles will show no movement but the body and brain remain active since we are dreaming.

Other FAQs about how long do dreams last?

1. Do we dream every night?

Dreaming every night is possible or not, is hard to answer. The researchers are trying to detect our time of dreaming based on brain waves. But this research is still in progress.

There have been studies where the researcher intentionally tries to wake up a sleeping person. The results showed that 50% of them woke up from NREM sleep whereas 80% woke up from REM sleep. This indicates that we spend most time dreaming.

2. Does everyone dream?

There’s no solid sleep research that can back this up but it is likely that all of us dream. Researchers are studying various factors to know why some people dream more than others.

Children spend more time in REM sleep but they get fewer dreams. Only after they reach the age bracket of 9–11-year-olds, the number of dreams they experience rises. Studies also show that in middle age, the dreams tend to become shorter.

If you go to sleep after a very tiring day, there are very few chances of dream recall. 

Studies have also predicted that people who are able to remember their dreams often have specific types of brain waves and certain parts of their brain are more active compared to others.

Few people have a habit of waking up in the middle of sleep. This gives the brain some time to encode the dreams and store them in the morning so that they can be retrieved in the morning. This is possible when you wake up in the middle of stage 2 sleep, not the REM sleep.

Another belief states that people who remember their dreams are the ones who give intense reactions to external stimuli in their sleeping or waking life.

3. How can I remember my dreams?

To remember your dreams, you need better quality sleep. Even certain food habits help us to remember our dreams.

But the easiest way of dream recall is to maintain a dream diary and note down the things you remember as soon as you wake up in the morning. You’ll notice that soon you will start remembering more dreams.

4. Do you dream in REM sleep?

It was believed that dreaming occurs only in the REM phase. Even until recently, dream researchers did not know that people can dream in their NREM phases too.

It is just that while you’re in NREM sleep, you’re in deep sleep so you cannot remember the dreams. However, in REM sleep, you’re in light sleep so you have a vivid memory of your dreams.

5. Why do we forget most of our dreams?

We forget most of our dreams because we dream in both NREM and REM stages. But since we are in deep sleep in the NREM phase, we don’t remember the dreams from that portion of time.

Additionally, if we observe the sleep cycle, in a total sleeping time of 7-8 hours, we only have 1-2 hours of REM sleep. 

The rest of the time is spent in NREM sleep i.e., deep sleep. In the REM stage, we are in light sleep. Hence, whatever we dream in those two hours is only remembered by our memory and the rest is all forgotten.

Final Thoughts!

Everyone has individual dreams based on their own life experiences and feelings. It is difficult to determine that two people will have the same dreams. 

This is only possible to know if you discuss your dream with someone else. But for that you need to remember your dream, isn’t it?

There are times when there’s absolutely no dream recall whereas the other times you have a vivid memory of all the dreams you had that night.

Dreams are just a brain activity that is practiced by your body to help you process some leftover information so you can start a fresh day.

However, if you experience recurring nightmares and feel sleep deprived even after sleeping for long hours, you must consult a doctor and seek medical guidance.

There are chances that there’s some medical illness that you’re failing to notice.

If you want to know ‘What do dreams look like?’ then click here.