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Is Your Anxiety Being Expressed Through Your Dreams?

Last Updated on: July 22, 2021

Reviewed By: Jessica Herzog, MD, FAAP, ABioM

woman sleeping by her laptop

Stress is a natural part of daily life; however, long-term stress can be harmful to your health. In this article, we look at the nature of dreams, how stress manifests itself in dreams, different types of stress, how EMFs may be contributing to your stress, and what you can do about it.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DREAM?

When we are asleep, our brain goes through REM cycles. This is the time of night when our brains are the most active. It is during this time when we dream. Some experts say that we dream around four to six times a night (1).

When you dream, you experience these five things (2):

  1. Hallucinations: You see things that are not there
  2. Delusions: You believe things that couldn’t possibly be true
  3. Disorientation: You become confused about time, place, and person
  4. Affective lability: You have wildly fluctuating emotions
  5. Amnesia: You wake up having forgotten most if not all of your dreams

Dreams are a normal physiological and psychological process. During dream sleep, brain activity is almost indistinguishable from when we are awake. However, current technology shows that some areas of your brain are 30% more active when you are asleep than when you are awake (2).

When you dream, regions at the back of the brain associated with visual processes burst into life. Another area of the brain that bursts into life is the area of the brain that controls movement and the sense of kinesthetic mobility. Interestingly enough, the left and right side of the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for high-level, rational, logical decisions and controlling emotional impulses, is deactivated while you sleep. This is the reason why dreams are often emotional, irrational, illogical, bizarre, and filled with past experiences.

brain scans comparing most/least active parts of the brain with NREM/REM

Our sense of time is distorted when we sleep. This is known as time dilation. Eg. When our alarm clock goes off, you may still be half asleep, hit the snooze button, and go back into the dream state. Then, when your alarm clock goes off again, you may have actually only been asleep for five more minutes but to you, it felt like an hour. During REM dream sleep, time gets stretched out. On the other hand, when you dream during non-REM sleep, time speeds up, so you could hit the snooze button for 20 mins but it actually feels like 2 mins to you.

When you sleep, your brain paralyses your body so that you can dream safely during REM sleep. This paralysis ensures that you do not act out your dreams while you sleep. During this process, your brain and brain stem send a signal down the spinal cord and paralyze only the voluntary muscles in your body. Your involuntary muscles like your lung and heart keep functioning as normal.

A FREUDIAN MISTAKE

The beliefs surrounding where dreams come from has a very storied history (2). In ancient Greek and Roman times, they believed that dreams were gifted to us from the gods. Some of their gods were even named after different sleep and dream-related subjects such as Somnos, Hypnos, and Morpheus.

detailed sculpture of ancient greek and roman times

Eastern Asian cultures believed that dreams came from somewhere in our souls. Dreams were believed to be a way that one could receive divine guidance. The ancient citizens of Rome, Greece, Egypt, and even Mesopotamia further believed dream interpretation to be an art that required great intelligence (3).

In the 1900s, Sigmund Freud brought dreams into the realm of the brain — he made the science of dreaming a neuroscience. Freud suggested that dreams came from our own minds, and while his theory on the origin of dreams was correct, his theories surrounding dreams were not.

One of Freud’s theories was named “disguise-censorship.” This theory suggests that a person’s dreams are their repressed wishes. Freud believed that if you told him a dream, he could tell you your true, suppressed desires. This theory and others was published in “The Interpretation of Dreams.” However, these theories are not scientifically testable.

Nonetheless, there is something to say about our dreaming life reflecting our waking life. Our dreaming life is a reflection of our emotional concerns or our emotional anxiety (2). Eg. if we are anxious about an exam or a presentation happening the next day, we may dream about it. If we are experiencing a stressful situation with a friend or a family member, that person may show up in our dreams.

stressed woman working at home at her desk

STRESS

When you sleep, you replay different experiences you may have had during the day. These experiences may include anticipatory thoughts. So it makes sense that if you are stressed about an upcoming exam, presentation, or job interview, or about your current family situation or finances, the people or situations you are concerned about may make a cameo in your dreams.

There are many different types of stress; these include: oxidative stress, and anxiety and mood disorders.

Oxidative Stress

Exposure to EMFs is one way oxidative stress can be triggered in the body. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals. Oxidative stress can cause fatigue, headaches, cognitive impairment, and accelerated aging (4).

Anxiety and Mood Disorders

Neuroendocrine, neurotransmitter, and neuroanatomical disruptions are the causes behind mood and anxiety disorders (5). The brain is highly interconnected to the rest of the body through electrical currents. When the brain structure or functions are disrupted, it affects the rest of the body.

woman sleeping at home with a sleeping mask on

HOW EMFS AFFECT STRESS LEVELS, DREAMS, AND THE BODY AS A WHOLE

Our bodies rely on electrical pulses to function. Electrical pulses are responsible for pumping our hearts, transmitting signals across the brain, and transmitting messages from the brain to our muscles. Our cells are specifically designed to both create and conduct electrical currents, and it is these same electrical currents that are responsible for the sleep and dream process.

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emit their own electrical pulses that negatively impact our cells. Some forms of EMFs include:

  • Cellphones
  • Laptops
  • Bluetooth devices
  • Microwave ovens

EMFs have been found to induce a form of stress known as oxidative stress (6)(4). Whether it is debt, relationship tension, or work deadlines, we all experience some form of stress now and then. Short-term oxidative stress is a normal and necessary process. However, long-term oxidative stress can contribute to the development of a wide range of health consequences, such as heart disease (7)(8), inflammatory diseases (9)(7), and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (7).

One study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine was entitled: “Effect of extremely low frequency electromagnetic field exposure on sleep quality in high voltage substations”(10). This study found that EMFs impact sleep quality.

Qi Device on a counter top

REDUCE EMFS, BOOST YOUR SLEEP

One way to improve your sleep is to reduce stress. And as we have learned, EMFs may be contributing to your stress levels. There are several studies that have been published that assess the value of EMF-protection devices. In addition to following these tips on how to sleep better, investing in an EMF-protection device may help reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

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