What’s happening in our brains when we’re asleep? Here’s what scientists have discovered about dreams:

  • First, violent dreams can be a medical wake-up call. Dreams occur during “rapid eye movement,” or REM sleep, and the only reason we don’t try to dance when we dream we’re dancing, is that our bodies stop producing the neurotransmitters that move our muscles. But people with “REM behavior disorder” act out their dreams, sometimes violently thrashing, kicking and screaming, behavior that can be an early sign of a brain disorder, like dementia or Parkinson’s disease. So, if that describes you, talk to your doctor. 

  • Another scientific fact: Night owls have twice as many nightmares. The theory: The stress hormone cortisol peaks in the morning, right before we’re supposed to wake up, but if you’re still in the dream stage, the cortisol may trigger nightmares.

  • Also, women are more prone to nightmares, and they’re usually 3 types: fearful dreams of being chased, or having their life threatened, dreams involving the loss of a loved one, or confused dreams that make the dreamer anxious. Why do women get more nightmares? Because they process more of their emotions during sleep. Women are also more socially aware, and carry that awareness into their sleep. 

  • Finally: dreaming helps us solve the issues that bother us while we’re awake. And since dreams are visual, illogical and freewheeling, psychologists say they’re perfect for solving complex problems. Because your mind goes places it normally wouldn’t when you’re awake. Hence the expression, “sleep on it,” it really works!