6 surprising factors that affect your dreams

Published: January 22, 2016


Having trouble at work? So it’s no shocker when you shoot your boss dead twice while under the sheets. Dreams are, in fact, your brain’s way of working through unresolved conflicts. But what explains random nightmares or unbelievably vivid visions? As compiled from Good Housekeeping magazine and the bestseller, The Committee of Sleep, here are factors that can influence what pops up in your visions whilst you snooze.

Specific odours

Dekha ek khwaab toh yeh silsilay huwe, — so, do sweet smells lead to positively sweet dreams or is it better to sleep to a Yash Chopra flick? A study found that sniffing flowers at a particular point in the sleep cycle led to more positive dreams, while a pungent sulphur odour was linked to negative ones. Though lab studies say you can’t replicate those results in your bedroom (by the time you’re dreaming, that gulaab scent you spritzed pre-bedtime can’t stimulate you), there’s research suggesting that a sudden aroma — parathas permeating up from the kitchen, for example — could infiltrate your dream. “Dreams are sleep protective,” says J Catesby Ware, Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk, Virginia. “So instead of waking up, you incorporate those stimuli into your dream.”

Spicy food

It’s pretty straightforward — anything that could cause indigestion — a weighty meal of nihari, other spicy foods, late night snacking on chilli chips — makes you stir more, meaning you have a better shot of remembering that nightmare. “The rule of thumb is that you need to wake up within five minutes of having a dream to recall it,” says Dr Ware. For rest that’s more peaceful all around, eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime, and choose nighttime snacks wisely (read: no bingeing on easily accessible refrigerator items like cake!). Since caffeine can have the same disruptive effect, it’s best to cut off your coffee intake post 2pm, too.

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Vitamin B6 overload

Do you take your multivitamins like clockwork? Maybe you’re overdoing them. While there’s no research yet on whether or not taking B6 (which is chock-full in multivitamins) leads to more lucid dreams, reports are awash with anecdotal evidence that it does. According to Deirdre Barrett, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massuchusetts, this makes good biological sense. “B6 is the co-factor our body uses to turn some of the amino acids we eat into the neurotransmitters that affect our dreaming,” she says. To stop the vivid dreams, stop the supplements. But if you’re looking to encourage dreaming, stay within the recommended amount of B6 — which means, cut down your multivitamins to thrice a week, if you’re taking them daily.

Quitting smoking

Are you trying to give up the puff? Maybe that’s what’s influencing your khwaab. Vivid dreams have been shown to be a symptom of kicking the habit, and according to research, 63% of smokers still dreamed about smoking a year later. Granted, you may just be working through your main issue at the moment (the fact that you really want a cigarette), but nicotine withdrawal also enhances brain activity in a way that can make you dream more, says Patrick McNamara, Director of the Evolutionary Neurobehaviour Laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. His recommendation: stick it out. Those neurons will eventually calm down again — and your lungs will thank you.

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Going to bed hungry

You’re struggling to keep yourself on that tikka diet — and you might be having the dreams to prove it. Low blood sugar can rouse you from sleep, meaning you may remember more dreams and those dreams may star a kilo of gulaab jaamun or a piping-hot slice of pizza. In fact, Dr Ware’s anorexic patients almost always dreamed about food in one sleep study. Luckily, a small nighttime snack of a banana and a glass of skim milk isn’t just filling, healthy and waistline-friendly, it also contains tryptophan (the amino acid in proteins that make people drowsy after Eid dinners), which can help you sleep more soundly.

Pregnancy and the new-mom period

Your baby’s missing, so you search for him outrageously, ripping at your bed sheets or even grabbing your husband for help. Is this nightmare typical pregnant woman/new mom anxiety? According to research, yes. Studies have found that it’s common to have extremely vivid dreams during pregnancy and your baby’s infancy, likely due to a mix of emotions, lack of sleep, and fluctuating hormone levels. Just like so many things that happen to our bodies around pregnancy and childbirth, there’s not much you can do to control them. But these dreams are a sign that your brain is helping you adapt to this huge life change — let that serve as a source of comfort and don’t stress out about it!

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2016.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Jan 22, 2016 - 8:40PM

    The last time I dreamt in my sleep was several years ago. If you have dreamless sleep, they say you are contended in life and healthy. Recommend

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