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What Are Vivid Dreams?

What Are Vivid Dreams?

Updated on Nov 10, 2022 | Published on Jul 12, 2021

Reviewed by Katina Tarver, MA (Mental Health and Wellness Counseling) , Life Coach

Vivid Dreams - Meaning, Causes, Side Effects and How to Stop Them

Were you dreaming of something intense and life-like; just when the alarm bell woke you up? The vision felt unbelievably real and it took a few minutes to realize that it was just a dream. 

Such an intense sight is hard to shake off once you wake up simply because of the clear and distinct memories attached with it. Such dreams are known as vivid dreams. 

These dream narratives are clear, distinct and you may feel that something just happened realistically around you. These dreams never ease out from the conscious mind and leave a deep imprint in your ‘psyche’. 

Read on to know more about these strange slumber-induced visions that are mysterious, crazy yet engrossing, and thrilling.

Vivid Dreams - Features & Causes
Vivid Dreams – Features & Causes
Vivid Dreams Examples, Side Effects & How To Stop It
Vivid Dreams Examples, Side Effects & How To Stop It

What are vivid dreams? (Vivid dreams meaning)

Vivid dreams are intense visions that are detailed; having clear narratives and are easily remembered and recalled. The dream feels incredibly real and authentic as if things were just happening in waking life.

The term ‘vivid’ means a strong and clear impression that has a lasting effect on the mind. Vivid dreams are distinct images that are detailed depictions of either some latent wishes or deep fears of the unconscious mind. It may be a weird dream vision that is not at all connected to reality. 

Your vivid dreams feel real because they go on for a long time and always occur during the REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep stage. The first REM stage starts 90 minutes after you fall asleep. Vivid dreams can either be happy themes or extremely upsetting experiences that may leave you baffled in no time. 

Every one of us has experienced vivid dreams in our daily lives. Any number of strange themes from teeth falling out, falling, pregnancy and even dreams of being naked can appear real and life-like if you are having vivid dreams lately.

Our sleeping brain remains active while the body sleeps and thus dreams happen and takes us to a world of fantasy and imagination. It is a fact that we do not remember all our dreams.

However, vivid dreams are emotionally intense and so people remember their dreams easily and can often recall them.

Several scientific pieces of research done on sleep and dreaming have shown that though dreaming can happen anytime throughout the night in both the REM and NREM stages it happens more intensely with a lot of details during the REM sleep stage. 

This happens because the REM stage is an alert sleep stage and the brain waves are similar to a waking stage.

At this stage, your blood pressure and heart rate rises, eyes move rapidly, breathing becomes shallow and irregular, and the arms and legs become temporarily immobile and paralyzed.

Vivid dreams are influenced by events of waking life. According to research, these detailed dream themes show your deepest fears and insecurities that you usually try to avoid during waking hours.

Sometimes, if your vivid dreams are pleasurable, it may show up the happy memories attached to some event of waking life.

Features of vivid dreams

In most cases, dreams are visual images and stories that your mind creates when you’re sleeping. Your vivid dreams have the following features:

  • Vivid dreams usually feature intense emotions. Some common emotions attached with such dreams are fear, embarrassment, surprise, guilt, and anger.
  • These intense dreams are often ambiguous and bizarre; such as dreams of being pregnant when you are not really carrying a baby in real life.
  • Vivid dreams occur with strange dream themes such as time travel, or loved ones coming back to life once again after they have passed away long ago.
  • Your vivid dream themes are easier to remember and can be easily recalled after waking up because they are seen in detail with a lot of intense emotions involved in the process.
  • Vivid dreams are mostly visual images that happen more often if you are stressed out, or tired in waking life.
  • These dreams are easily affected by present life events
  • Vivid dreams always occur during the REM stage when the brain is active and alert.

What causes vivid dreams?

There are various causes of vivid dreams such as sleep deprivation. drug abuse, stress, pregnancy, medications, and sleep disorders.

Dreaming is an enigma by itself. Though several pieces of research have been done to understand the causes of vivid dreams, still many issues remain unanswered and scientists think that the following factors may play a role in the process.

1. Stress or anxiety

The daily life issues, whether real or imagined, causes stress and anxiety and it can get relayed in the subconscious mind while dreaming. People who suffer from anxiety and worries usually get upsetting images at night and it has been backed by several types of research.

Several stressful life events such as work-life balance, issues with relationships, and disagreements with friends or family, moving to a new locality or city can induce stress and harm the mental well-being of the person.

Being stressed is related to poor sleep quality and frequent nighttime wakeups and can trigger vivid dreams. If you remain anxious during the day for many reasons, you may visualize bizarre things while dreaming. This is nothing but the undesirable memory traces making their way in dreams.

Sometimes emotional sufferings attached with several painful life events such as losing someone, or a breakup, job loss can lead to stress and induce vivid dreams.

This causation of vivid dreams is also related to the concept of continuity hypothesis where researchers claimed that waking life experiences and their associated emotions are carried over to the dream state.

2. Prolonged sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation can lead to inadequate sleep, nighttime waking, and deeper sleep intensity, and therefore more vivid dreams. One study conducted by neurologist Mark Mahowald of the University of Minnesota claimed that “When someone is sleep deprived we see greater sleep intensity, meaning greater brain activity during sleep; dreaming is definitely increased and likely more vivid.”

When you do not get enough sleep, it can affect your overall body functioning. It may lead to fatigue, irritability, difficulties in concentration and memory, and mood swings. All these conditions cause anxiety and a restless mindset, causing intense dreams.

Moreover sleep deprivation can be caused due to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia; and increases the chances of getting vivid dreams.

3. Medications

Some medications that are usually related to vivid dreams are antidepressants, blood pressure medications, beta-blockers, drugs given for Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological ailments. 

All these medications have potential side effects that can cause poor quality sleep such as difficulty in falling asleep or waking up many times during the night, a bizarre feeling of mental uneasiness, etc. All these factors may lead to more vivid dreams and better recall of the dream narratives.

4. Psychiatric illnesses

People suffering from severe depression or bipolar disorders can experience vivid dreams. The dream themes show sadness, grief, failure, and it actually resembles what the patient experiences in his/her waking life.

Research studies have found that people suffering from depression actually re-live their pain and suffering through vivid dreaming. Since these people never get deep sleep, they have difficulty processing and accepting their negative feelings. Dreams are a way to vent out their troubling emotions and make them feel better in waking life.

Studies have also shown that people suffering from schizophrenia and dissociative disorders usually get more intense vivid dreams than others. The dream content is usually negative, violent, and bizarre.

Moreover, anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, panic attacks can lead to vivid dreams. The dream themes are usually scary and frightening scenes that induce sweating, rapid heartbeats after waking up. The person may also become jittery and restless.

As anxiety is related to sleep problems, it has been correlated with dreaming as well. Excessive worries and fear of what is going to happen next or considering a situation as dreadful in waking life can make falling asleep difficult. 

The person may ruminate over unnecessary things that may lead to problems in staying asleep.

People suffering from anticipatory anxiety in waking hours reported disturbing dreams while sleeping. They could recall their dream themes clearly that involved fear of failures; as if certain perceived threats of waking life showed up in dreams.

5. Pregnancy

Another notable cause of vivid dreams is pregnancy. This is due to the anxiety and stress related to preparing for delivery, childbirth, and parenting responsibilities. Sometimes hormonal changes during early pregnancy can cause vivid dreams.

It has been found that pregnant women suffer from sleep deprivation during the second trimester because of frequent toilet visits, fetal movements, sleep discomfort due to a growing baby inside the body.

Thus inadequate sleep results in shallow sleep, fragmented sleep, and nighttime awakenings causing the probability of seeing anxiety-ridden dreams. Pregnant women also have more detailed dreams about their baby’s health and well-being. 

Vivid dreams during pregnancy are a normal occurrence and it is just a way to process the negative thoughts and worries associated with childbirth.

6. Substance abuse

Several research findings have shown that frequent drug abuse and alcoholism can lead to vivid dreams. Substances like cocaine, marijuana can lead to poor sleep quality. The withdrawal symptoms from heavy drinking can also lead to weird dreaming.

It has also been found that drug-induced dreams are usually frightening dream themes that make the dreamer wake up in fear and dread. They are actually nightmares showing fear, guilt, and regrets of waking life.

Alcohol usage just before bedtime may help you fall asleep initially but as the night goes by and the blood alcohol level goes down, you may get bizarre vivid dreams that may or may not be related to your waking life.

This happens because of shallow sleep and more frequent night awakenings. A study conducted by Dr. Karen Lee, MD found the detrimental effects of evening drinking on sleep and dreaming. He found that “Alcohol consumption leads to awakening throughout the night. A lot of the sleep is interrupted and you wake up restless.”

7. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy can cause weird and disturbing vivid dreams. This sleep disorder is characterized by daytime drowsiness, irregular sleep at night, and fatigue. Research studies suggest that people suffering from narcolepsy usually get a negative dream that goes on for a long time. 

Sometimes the dreamer also reports that they were aware that it was just a dream, thus indicating a lucid dream state that is clear, distinct, and vivid.  

A lot of activities going on in the brain while dreaming, especially in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for memory consolidation, awareness, and problem-solving.

As the dreams are longer and continue in the REM sleep stage, they are easily remembered and recalled.

Patients with narcolepsy describe their dreams as real and life-like. It happens because the thin line between dream and wakefulness gets blurred in such a disorder. 

As the disease causes frequent sleep attacks where the patient falls asleep quite often in odd hours, when they go to bed at night, their sleep gets fragmented with repeated waking.

Another thing that happens in narcolepsy is, when patients fall asleep, they shortly start with a REM stage. This means that they get into a vivid dream state even during shorts naps and siesta.

8. Excessive binge watching

Sometimes binge-watching a TV series or long hours of screen time just before sleep time can actually mess up with your sleep schedule. Experts have proved that too much screen time can affect sleep patterns.

Marc L. Benton, medical director of Inpatient Sleep Services for Summit Medical Group in Madison, Morris County says that “Any form of electronic media used in close proximity to bedtime can both interfere with sleep initiation and continuity, and can also impact one’s dreams.”

He further adds that “To a degree, and this varies from person to person, whatever you are doing or thinking about around the time you go to bed can impact your dream content.” 

If the content of the TV show is scary and disturbing you may get vivid dreams that are emotionally high and fearful. A regular dose of binge-watching can also cause vivid nightmares. The typical dream themes can be falling from a cliff or flying high up in the sky.

9. Sleep supplements

Sleep medicines that are used to increase melatonin and induce a good amount of sleep can cause vivid dreaming. This leads to more intense REM cycles with detailed dream themes.

Melatonin acts on the circadian rhythms that regulate our sleep-wake cycles. If you’re sleep-deprived for a few days and then take a supplement to improve your sleep quality, you will find that you will experience long REM sleep – it is known as REM rebound. This phenomenon can cause vivid dreams that can be easily remembered and recalled.

How to have vivid dreams?

We all dream but we do not remember the details of the dreams in a similar way. It has been found that vivid dreams are easily remembered and recalled because it feels real and lifelike. If you can train yourself to dream vividly, you may be able to recall the dreams correctly.

You may follow certain techniques and tips to habituate yourself to dream vividly and enjoy the experience attached to it.

1. Ensure to have quality sleep

If you want to have vivid dreams that are less stressful and can easily be recalled, you should have quality sleep. This can be done by following a consistent sleep schedule, which means going to bed and falling asleep at a particular time every day.

You can choose a comfortable place to sleep with minimal distractions around. Your darkroom with dim light and absolute silence will make you sleep well. This increases the chances of a longer REM stage and as such more vivid dreams.

Sometimes if you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t panic. Keep yourself calm and try to sleep again after some time. If possible you may try to remember your dream that you might be seeing just before waking up. 

If your dream was vivid, you will be able to recall it with minimum effort.

2. Maintain a dream journal

If you write down your dream narratives in a dream diary just after waking up, you will be able to recall them easily. Moreover, a dream journal also helps you to know whether similar scenes and themes keep coming back or not.

Journaling your dream content and various emotions attached to it will help you to have more vivid dreams and experience the process without fear and discomfort.  

The process of dreaming will appear natural and effortless and you will be able to process the thoughts and emotions in a better way.

3. Abstain from alcohol and drugs

Alcohol interferes with REM sleep and causes nightmares and negative dreams. It is advisable not to take drugs or alcohol before going to bed because you may forget the dream narrative completely after waking up. 

Even if the dream was vivid, the recall will be faulty because of erratic REM sleep and inadequate memory traces of what you were seeing in the dream.

4. Remind yourself that you’re going to dream tonight

When you say to yourself that you’re going to dream tonight, you are actually making yourself aware of what’s going to happen in the sleeping brain after you doze off.

This is known as a sleep aid that helps in dreaming and better recall of events happening in the subconscious mind.

5. Practice meditation before going to bed

Meditation helps in improving your sleep patterns. It keeps you calm and controls your monkey mind. You should follow a peaceful regime for about an hour before retiring to bed. 

Avoid thinking about the long to-do list for the next day. It disturbs your inner peace and you might have problems falling or staying asleep. 

When you regularly practice mindfulness meditation improves mental clarity and concentration. You will be able to focus on things in a better way. 

Moreover, research supports the idea that meditation helps in better dream recall and it also increases the length of the REM cycle causing more vivid dreams.

6. Avoid going to bed hungry

Your sleep quality and dreams will surely get affected if you are going to bed with an empty stomach. This happens because while you are sleeping, your blood glucose levels fall and you may wake up feeling restless and hungry.

It has been found that people who were dreaming just before they got up in the middle of the night were dreaming of food. People who usually have organic food had better dream recall. They reported vivid dream themes that were pleasurable and less weird.

On the contrary, people who had habits of junk eating or going to bed without eating anything reported vivid nightmares and scary dream themes of flying, water, and other risky scenarios such as car accidents.

Though research findings supporting the fact that food habits and hunger can really affect dreams or not are scarce, it has been found that dozing off in an empty stomach can cause weird dreams. 

Another small study finding also supports the idea that overeating or having large meals just before sleeping can also cause weird vivid dreams because of indigestion and heartburn. So in both ways, vivid dreams are dependent on what you eat or not eat at all before falling asleep.

If you wish to have more pleasurable vivid dreams, follow a good dietary habit before sleeping and enjoy the juicy dreams that are worth remembering.

Vivid dreams examples

People dream about weird things in their dreams. The most common vivid dream examples include the following:

  • Dream of being naked – This dream speaks about your fear of being exposed, it also means deepest insecurities, feeling vulnerable and weak from within. The dream symbolizes whether you are comfortable with your real ‘self’.
  • Falling dreams – Another vivid dream is the falling dream that symbolizes insecurity about certain aspects of waking life. It also symbolizes failure and uncertainty about important life events, loss of control and grip over various situations of waking life.
  • Dream of being chased – This vivid dream symbolizes avoidance and overwhelming emotions. It means the demands of everyday life are trying to catch up with you but you are feeling apprehensive of whether you could ever do it properly.
  • Dreams of being pregnant – Pregnancy dreams are more vivid than anything else because of the various changes that go on in the body at this time. Such a dream symbolizes creation, personal growth, and goal accomplishment. This is a positive dream where the dreamer usually wakes up happy and surprised after such a dream.
  • Teeth falling out dream – This vivid dream symbolizes poor communication skills. Inability to express yourself clearly, stress and anxiety, poor decision making ability etc.
  • Illness – Another very common vivid dream is that of illness. This dream symbolizes that something bad is going to happen in the near future. The dream warns you of some coming danger and it is preparing you to face such a situation boldly. It can also be a message to look after your health and do some regular self-care.
  • Lost in the maze – This vivid dream is all about your deepest fears and uncertainties. You are unsure of your next move, you do not know what to do and how to come out of a problematic situation. Seeing yourself lost in a maze symbolizes poor self-confidence, pessimism.
  • Dreams about a plane crash – A plane crash in dream is a common dream motif and it symbolizes uncertainties, anticipating failures, poor life goals, jealousy in relationships, and  some kind of ultimate catastrophe in real life.

Side effects of vivid dreams

Vivid dreams are not harmful to you and there is nothing much to worry about. But if the dream narratives are too disruptive and affect your waking life and sleep schedule, then you should consider understanding the various side effects of vivid dreams and do something to reduce their occurrence through various means.

A few of the common side effects of vivid dreams are:

1. Feeling sleepy during the day

If you feel sleepy during the day, it may cause inattentiveness and a lack of good focus in daily activities. It hampers working memory and you may also suffer from frequent forgetting.

Daytime sleepiness can impair cognitive functions and can interfere with your everyday tasks. You may also feel tired and fatigued all the time and your work performance and productivity will be badly affected.

If you feel too sleepy at odd hours, you may easily get distracted and should avoid doing tasks that need a lot of focus and concentration. Erratic sleep patterns can lower your immune system and can cause various mental health issues that can cause weird dreaming.

2. Mood swings

As vivid dreams are intense and emotionally overwhelming, the person may suffer from frequent mood swings and irritability after waking up. 

If the dream narratives were negative, then it can cause anxiety and fear in reality. It may take time for the dreamer to comprehend that what he/she has seen was just a dream.

When vivid dreams keep recurring very often and persist over a period of time, then it may lead to melancholy, sulking, unhappiness, brooding, emotional restlessness, and poor emotional control.

3. Avoiding or resisting sleep

Sometimes vivid dreams can make you fearful and anxious in waking life. If the themes are bad, scary, and frightening and you woke up baffled about what you just saw, you may resist going back to sleep again. 

You may consciously or unconsciously try to avoid going to bed or fall asleep because you fear seeing another bad dream. Sometimes, you may feel like changing the room and try sleeping somewhere else to stop such dreams from popping up again and again.

4. Overthinking and rumination

If vivid dreams are occurring quite frequently, you may start ruminating about the dream themes in waking life. As these dreams are emotionally draining and can be easily recalled, people often remember them and overthink about these night stories.

Again if the dream themes are scary and disturbing, it may lead to behavior irritation and bad mood in waking hours. You may easily get distracted from your regular work, can make unusual mistakes, etc.

5. Headache and tiredness

Sleep deprivation that may occur due to vivid dreams can cause headaches, fatigue, tiredness, and a host of physical problems like high blood pressure, stomach issues, etc. Frequent vivid dreams that are not pleasurable can take a toll on your physical and mental health.

How to stop vivid dreams?

Vivid dreams are not at all harmful yet sometimes these dreams may feel uncomfortable and emotionally exhausting.

These are usually considered unpleasant dreams because of their intensity and vividness. You may wish to stop its recurrence in daily life. Few tips may help you do so.

1. Manage stress and anxiety

Vivid dreams are caused due to everyday stress triggers that reduce sleep quality and lead to long dreams that feel like a real-life experience. 

Stress can influence your dreams in negative ways. The anxiety and insecurities, fear of failures can be manifested in bad dream themes.

More importantly, the deepest fears and anxiousness gets manifested in the dream theme making it more unexpected and weird.

Thus if you wish to stop such dreams from reoccurring again, follow a healthy lifestyle and keep stress at bay. You can practice doing the following:

  • Meditation and deep breathing
  • Regular exercise
  • You can have some ‘Me time’ and start doing things that can soothe you mentally and keep stress away
  • Art therapy
  • Relaxation and mindfulness practices that will help you know the ways to live in the moments and stop overthinking about the past or future events.

2. Stay physically fit and healthy

If you wish to stop your distressing dreams, you need to follow a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthily and follow a regular sleep schedule to keep away those crazy dreams.

You should also maintain a healthy weight, stay hydrated, and exercise regularly to keep yourself fit and fine. Remember that a calm and peaceful mind can reside in a healthy body. So look after your overall health and stop those dreams that are going insane these days.

3. Medication

Dreams come and go on their own. A few healthy lifestyle choices can help you cope up with the stress and stop the vivid dreams, but sometimes these dreams go awry and may become uncontrolled and disturbing.

This usually happens in certain psychiatric illnesses such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that causes the trauma scenes to get manifested in dreams too often. The person may become extremely restless and overwhelmed.

In such a situation, he/she should visit a psychiatrist who may prescribe certain sleeping medication or anti-anxiety drugs to induce a peaceful sleep to feel better and keep dreams at bay.

4. Use of imagery rehearsal therapy

This treatment is usually used for people seeing disturbing images in their vivid dreams. It happens as a result of trauma where the dream imagery is scary and reminds the dreamer of some trauma experienced in waking life.

Imagery rehearsal therapy is mostly used in PTSD patients who get vivid nightmares and always remain fearful of its reoccurrence. 

It is done under the guidance of a trained therapist who helps the patient to replay the dream images in mind, to rehearse it over and over again until it appears non-threatening.

Imagery rehearsal therapy helps to reduce the recurring vivid dreams, mostly the nightmares that are emotionally high and robs you of inner peace and happiness.

5. Never dwell on your dreams

You can control your vivid dreams simply by accepting the way they are. Never dwell on your dreams and ruminate about the images you just saw. Sometimes it is a good idea to change the course of your thoughts and stop thinking about dreams in reality.

Even if you wake up after visualizing a scary dream, remind yourself to stay calm and try to process your emotions in a healthy way. Relax and try to sleep again after some time when you feel calm.

6. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption

There is a lot of research done on sleep and dreams which shows that you really need to cut down your caffeine intake and alcohol consumption to have a good night’s sleep. 

As already discussed these substances can disrupt a regular sleep schedule and cause vivid nightmares. You may wake up in a pool of sweat with palpitations and irregular breathing. It doesn’t allow you to have a restful sleep.

Alcohol is a diuretic by nature. It means it can easily make you feel dehydrated at night. It causes the body to remove fluids faster and as a result, you may get up frequently at night for innumerable toilet visits. This can lead to fragmented sleep and weird dreaming.

7. Practice good sleep hygiene

Sleep is essential for your overall good health. The things that you can do to have good sleep hygiene are:

  • Be regular with your sleep timings
  • Take short naps if you feel tired
  • Stay away from screen before going to bed
  • Design a cozy bedroom with minimal distraction and dim light that can induce a good sleep
  • Exercise regularly to maintain good health and keep physical problems such as body aches and stomach issues away.

8. Talk to an expert

If you feel that your vivid dreams are causing a lot of distress, you should consult a trained therapist or a sleep expert. They will guide you with the right coping skills and would help you feel better.

Are vivid dreams bad?

Several types of research have been done to understand the meanings behind our crazy dreams but there are still many unknown things yet to be explored. One such thing is whether vivid dreams are really bad.

No scientific evidence has been found that proves that vivid dreams are a cause of concern. As these dreams are long visions that continue with a lot of detailed narrations, they are emotionally intense and can make the dreamer feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable.

The unsettling content of these dreams can make the dreamer overthink it but it is not harmful. Few lifestyle changes, better sleep hygiene, and timely therapy can help to reduce the disturbing effects of such dreams in waking life.

The video link given below shows the various causes of vivid dreams in a detailed manner. The content speaks about how life stressors can trigger weird dreams such as the present pandemic that led to many people seeing freaky images as a night vision.

Do check out.

Wrap up

To conclude, we can say that vivid dreams are random images, ideas, and emotions that occur in quick succession in the subconscious mind and are very intense in nature. 

Whether these images mean anything or happen involuntarily in the mind in the active stages of sleep still needs to be established with further scientific research.

The content of vivid dreams is to be analyzed in detail to relate it with the events of our waking life. Till then, you can just enjoy the experience of dreaming and accept the fact that it was just a mysterious night vision and nothing else.

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