This Is What Happens To Your Body When You’re Dreaming

By molly atherton 4 months ago
Dreams, those enigmatic realms of the mind, have fascinated and perplexed humanity for centuries. As we surrender to the realm of sleep, our consciousness embarks on journeys that defy the boundaries of reality. But what exactly unfolds within our bodies during these nocturnal adventures? Delving into the intricate interplay of brain activity, hormonal shifts, and physiological responses, this article aims to unravel the secrets of what happens to your body when you're dreaming.

Muscles stop moving

This transient paralysis during REM sleep is a physiological safeguard orchestrated by the brain. While the mind embarks on surreal adventures within the dream realm, the body remains in a state of repose, suspended in a delicate balance between rest and activity.
Image source/
As soon as your body hits the REM stage of sleep your muscles go into a kind of temporary state of paralysation where your muscles do not move. Which, is reassuring to know that we are not capable of acting out our dreams (sleepwalking is another thing entirely of course).

Your body truly relaxes

Even during seemingly peaceful moments, our muscles remain subtly active, responding to the demands of maintaining posture, subtle movements, and the ever-present background tension that comes with the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Image source/
You may think you are relaxed when you are chilling on the sofa or lay on a  beach - but the truth is our body is never fully relaxed because our muscles and body is still working all the time. The only time this actually happens is during sleep when it shuts off and relaxes in order to fully recuperate.

The frontal cortex in your brain switches off

Dreams, more often than not, defy the very rationality that the frontal cortex champions. In the surreal landscapes of our nightly reveries, the rules of space and time become malleable, and the logical frameworks that guide our waking hours seem to unravel.
Image source/
The frontal cortex of our brain contains a lot of our rationality. For example, our concept of space and time as well as our logic and reasoning skills. As we all know, dreams often don't make sense and if you've ever been lucky enough to fly in your dreams you'll know there's no rhyme or reason.

But your brain remains awake

As the night descends and we surrender to the embrace of sleep, our body enters a phase of apparent stillness and inactivity. It might seem like a period of functional dormancy, with most bodily processes slowing down, but beneath the surface, a symphony of activity unfolds.
Image source/
Our body is pretty much functionless in the night whilst we sleep, apart from of course our eye movement and some muscle twitches. But, the brain continues to think, and to make decisions. Of course, not in the same capacity as it would when it was awake of course.

Your memories are used to inspire dreams

Consider for a moment the fantastical landscapes, peculiar characters, and improbable events that unfold in the theater of your dreams. It's easy to assume that these elements are born entirely from the realm of fiction, but in reality, your brain is an astute curator, pulling from the vast repository of your life experiences, memories, and even external influences such as films.
Image source/
Have you ever heard the fact that your brain cannot make up a scenario entirely from fiction? Well this is true. And if you're wondering how when lots of strange things can happen - it is because your brain takes different aspects from your life and places them together, including from films.

It also helps store memories

While the narrative of our dreams may not precisely mirror the events of our waking memories, the relationship between sleep, dreaming, and memory is a complex and vital interplay within the intricate workings of the human brain.
Image source/
Even though our memories are not directly played out in dreams. dreaming does help us consolidate and help store our true memories into our brains. This is why sleep and specifically dreaming plays a very important role in our memory and how much we can retain in our brains.

... And it produces real emotion

It's a peculiar aspect of dreaming that leaves us grappling with the profound question: how is it that we can feel such raw and intense emotion when the scenarios playing out in our dreams have not actually transpired in reality?
Image source/
How is it that we can feel such raw and intense emotion when we dream, when the scenario has not even happened in reality? Again, this is because it uses our memories and real emotions we have experienced in the past which are recreated in our dreams.

You enter the REM stage

As the acronym suggests, during this particular phase, our eyes engage in a ballet of rapid, darting movements beneath closed eyelids. For a moment, the peculiar spectacle it would present if our eyes were to mimic this frenetic activity while wide open.
Image source/
You'll have heard of the REM phase of sleep before - it is an acronym for rapid eye movement. This is because our eyes are moving very fast under our eyelids while they are closed. And thinking about how strange this would look if our eyes were open, it is a fortunate thing that they do close.

This happens multiple times

The cyclical nature of sleep, marked by distinct stages, unveils a fascinating rhythm that governs our nightly repose. One of these crucial stages is the Rapid Eye Movement phase, a period characterized by heightened brain activity and vivid dreaming.
Image source/
We do not enter the rem stage and stay in it, nor do we enter once and then remain out of it. We are actually in the rem phase multiple times per night. According to sleep researchers we enter the rem phase for around 90-100 minutes and this happens around three or four times per night.

Your visual cortex is active

The phenomenon of vivid dreaming is indeed a marvel that highlights the extraordinary capabilities of the human mind. When we delve into the intricacies of this experience, it becomes apparent that our ability to witness dreams with such intricate detail is a testament to the remarkable workings of our brain.
Image source/
If you think about it, it's pretty crazy that we can see our dreams in extreme detail. They appear as real because we can visually see it happening - and of course it is not actually because our eyes are not open and it is not real. But the visual cortex is active and showing us these images.

Your body twitches

The transition from wakefulness to sleep is a delicate dance orchestrated by our complex neurological and physiological systems. As you embark on the journey into the realm of dreams, a peculiar phenomenon occasionally interrupts this serene process—a sudden, involuntary twitch that propels you awake, disrupting the tranquil descent into slumber.
Image source/
You are falling asleep, and then... a huge involuntary twitch makes you JUMP awake. Or, even worse you are lying next to someone twitching madly. There's a reason for it. It happens as you enter the dreaming phase and your muscles react as they start to relax.

But you are totally unaware

During the hushed hours of night, our bodies undergo a series of subtle movements, often imperceptible to the conscious mind. These involuntary twitches, seemingly random and erratic, are the consequence of intricate signals coursing through our nervous system as our muscles gradually release tension.
Image source/
Our body may be twitching - but these are random twitches as a result of signals to the brain and as out muscles start to relax. But we are entirely unaware when we sleep. This is why it is often considered our most vulnerable state because we have no control over ourselves in that moment.

The brain's stem cells fire up

Amidst the intricate neural landscape, a group of cells emerges as silent orchestrators—the stem cells in our brains. Surprisingly, these cellular entities, usually associated with regeneration and repair, take on a peculiar role during our periods of slumber.
Image source/
The stem cells in your brain can fire up when you are asleep and start acting erratically, sending signals to your brain. In fact some scientists and researchers believe that this is the reason that we dream - because our brains try and make sense of these signals.

You may have non REM dreams

Distinguishing between rem dreams and non-rem dreams can be a perplexing task, as the veil between these two states of dreaming often blurs. However, delving into the characteristics of each can provide valuable insights into the peculiar and diverse nature of our dreaming experiences.
Image source/
It's not always easy to distinguish a rem dream from a non rem dream. But, rem dreams tend to be a little more far fetched and crazy. On the other hand non rem dreams tend to be more mundane - for example, doing your weekly supermarket shop...which is not very entertaining at all.

You may forget everything you dreamt about

Dreams, those voyages into the fantastical landscapes of our subconscious, occasionally gift us with experiences so vivid and delightful that we never remember in the waking world.
Image source/
Sometimes dreams are so good that you want to remember to tell everyone about it. But, often we wake up and have no idea what we dreamt. Or, we remember for a few minutes before it seemingly vanishes from our brain. Experts think this could be a coping mechanism to help us distinguish what is reality.

Brain waves are slower

The initial stages of sleep usher in a sense of disorientation and confusion for those who happen to wake up in this delicate period. This disoriented feeling is a testament to the shifting patterns of brain wave activity. The brain waves, which reflect the synchronized electrical activity of neurons, decelerate, creating an environment conducive to the entry into deeper states of sleep.
Image source/
As we enter sleep our brain waves start to slow down - hence why you may feel disorientated or confused if you wake up just before or after you have slept. The brain waves are not entirely slow however, there are bursts of rapid brain waves which happen when you are dreaming.

Energy is restored

Our physical form engages in a silent but indispensable choreography of rejuvenation. The period of slumber becomes a sanctuary for the body, a time when it diligently undertakes the essential task of replenishing and recuperating energy levels.
Image source/
While we are in the middle of a dream, our body is restoring its energy which is a vital function to maintain our well being and our health. So dreaming is not pointless, we are remaining in a state of sleep while our body can restore and recuperate its energy levels.

Your body heals

Sleep, often hailed as the nightly sanctuary for our weary minds, is not merely a cessation of consciousness. Beyond the realm of dreams, a profound and intricate symphony of physiological processes unfolds, orchestrating the restoration and rejuvenation of our bodies
Image source/
Sleep is essential to the healing and repairing of our bodies. While we are dreaming there is another very important process happening in our bodies. This is that the tissue in our body starts to grow and repair itself. The majority of healing happens when we are asleep - hence why it is so important.

Sometimes we have nightmares

Nightmares, with their gripping intensity, have the power to transform the peaceful realms of our sleep into nightmarish landscapes fraught with fear, anxiety, and distress. The content of these unsettling dreams can vary widely, from confronting our deepest fears to finding ourselves in surreal and threatening situations.
Image source/
Unfortunately, sometimes (and sometimes frequently for some people) we get nightmares. Which, if you've ever experienced one and I'm sure we all have, you will know how truly horrible they can be. It is caused by the rem stage, when our brain is active and we start dreaming all sorts of strange things.

Our breathing slows down

As the curtain of sleep descends, our bodies gracefully transition into a mode of rest where energy consumption is optimized. During this period, our metabolic rate decreases, and the demand for oxygen subsides.
Image source/
Of course, in sleep we are not using our body and so we do not need to breathe as fast. Our body in a way all slows down and so our breathing does too. This is another way that our body gets to relax in sleep...everything slows down and relaxes. Unless it's a nightmare of course...

Your heart rate can increase

In the waking hours, our bodies seamlessly synchronize the rise and fall of breath with the beating of the heart. It's a harmonious symphony orchestrated by the autonomic nervous system, responding to the demands of the conscious mind and the physical activities we engage in.
Image source/
This is pretty much the opposite as when we are awake - because when we are awake if our breathing increases so does or heart rate. During sleep and dreams however it is the other way around and if our breathing slows down, our heart rate actually increases and so this is in fact common as we sleep and dream.

You may be working through emotional stress

Within the vast landscape of scientific inquiry and psychological exploration, a prevailing perspective emerges: dreams are not merely whimsical narratives of the night but serve a profound purpose in our mental and emotional well-being.
Image source/
Many researchers and experts believe that dreams have an important function in allowing us to deal with our emotional distress or trauma. They believe that through dreaming it is a way that the mind and body process things so that our body can deal with negative emotions.

You release hormones

As we traverse the landscapes of our dreams, a parallel symphony unfolds within our bodies, marked by the release of essential hormones, with growth hormones taking center stage in this nocturnal performance.
Image source/
As a part of the natural bodily process which happens when we sleep, we also release hormones. Particularly, growth hormones are released. So while we are dreaming about some weird and wonderful thing, hormones are released to aid our body and our cell growth.

We sometimes have lucid dreams

Lucid dreaming, a phenomenon that infrequently graces the sleep experience of most individuals, is a rare and extraordinary treat. It transforms the ordinary landscape of dreams into a realm where the boundaries between imagination and reality blur, granting us a unique awareness within the whimsical tapestry of our subconscious mind.
Image source/
Lucid dreaming is when we are dreaming but we are aware of it. when it comes along which for most people is rare, is such a treat. A chance to control our dreams and do thing we would never be able to do in real life - and with absolutely no consequences because it is not real.

It can affect your mood

The impact of dreams on our emotional landscape is nothing short of remarkable. A single night's journey into the realm of dreams can wield the power to shape our mood and disposition for an entire day.
Image source/
When we dream, it can have a powerful affect on us. A good dream can keep us happy for the entire day. And, a bad dream or a nightmare can do the exact opposite. In fact have you ever been in a mood with someone because of how they treated you in a dream? Com on, admit it.

Some people sleepwalk

For some folks, this sleep paralysis thing doesn't quite go as planned. Meet the sleepwalkers. These are the brave souls who, instead of chilling out in bed, find themselves wandering around totally unaware, like nighttime explorers on a mission.
Image source/
As we now know, our body should be in the temporary state of paralysation and so theoretically it should not be able to move - at all. Unfortunately for some people, it does not work this way and they find themselves sleepwalking totally unaware and unable to control themselves.

Or experience sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis can be a pretty spooky ride for those who've had the ticket to this strange sleep phenomenon. Imagine this: you're awake in your mind, but your body seems to have hit the snooze button on waking up. It's like your brain is ready for a morning jog, but your legs are still catching some sleep.
Image source/
Sleep paralysis is a scary concept because the person experiencing it cannot wake themselves up, even though they have become conscious. And so, for the person with sleep paralysis is it a very scary experience. Not everybody will experience this however, some people are very prone to it.

Some people believe dreams prepare us

These dream experts believe that the REM stage of sleep, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement (you know, the stage where your eyes are doing a secret dance behind your eyelids), is like the grand finale of the sleep show. It happens just before we wake up, and these researchers think that's when our brains throw a little dream party.
Image source/
It is the belief of some dream researchers that dreams are intended to prepare us for every day life. So, they believe that the rem stage of sleep is the last stage because this is before we wake and so our dreams are there to get us ready for the day ahead and prepare us mentally.

It may be hard to wake up

Ever wondered why your sleep feels like a journey with different stops? Well, buckle up, because we're diving into the first stage of sleep and what happens next!
Image source/
Aside from the first stage of sleep - in which sleep is very light and things will wake you up quite easily, after that it is very hard to wake up. You are totally unaware of what is going on and may not even hear loud noises or be aware of any of your surroundings.

You have deep sleep

In simple terms, deep sleep is your brain's special rest time, and if someone interrupts it with an early morning alarm or a loud noise, your brain might protest a bit. So, the next time you feel a bit foggy-headed in the morning, you can blame it on being rudely awakened,
Image source/
Deep sleep is the stage before rem. And of course you can never really know what stage you are at as you sleep because you are not aware. But, if you feel particularly groggy and unable to think straight when y0ou wake up - it is likely you were woken from deep sleep.

REM Sleep Produces The Most Vivid Dreams

Imagine your night's sleep as a big adventure for your brain. Now, there's this special kind of sleep called REM sleep, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. It's like the superhero of sleep because it's the deepest and most exciting part!
Image Source / Medical News Today
When you're in a REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, this is the deepest kind of sleep you can get to, and it's also when you're more likely to have the most vivid dreams. REM sleep happens in short periods throughout your night's sleep, so you may even have more than one vivid dream.

Morning Is Better For Dreams

Ever hit the snooze button on your alarm and found yourself diving into a wild, vivid dream that feels like a blockbuster movie? Turns out, those epic dreams often unfold during the morning hours rather than the nighttime.
Image Source / The Express Tribune
Do you ever fall back asleep after your alarm and have a really vivid dream, one that was longer and had a bigger plot that what you could remember during the night? That's because longer dreams happen during the morning hours rather than during the night.

You're More Likely To Remember Dreams On Weekends

Ever wondered why it feels like you remember more dreams when you decide to hit that snooze button and catch a few extra Zs? Well, there's a simple reason behind it, and it has to do with something called REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement.
Image Source / HuffPost UK
When you're having a lying in, or maybe setting that alarm for a little later, you're more likely to remember your dreams. This is because you're more likely to have more REM episodes, and longer REM episodes, allowing you to dream that little bit more.

We Dream Mostly In Pictures

Have you ever wondered about the mysterious world of dreams? Well, here's a little secret: our dreams are like movies that play in our minds while we sleep, and guess what? They're mostly in pictures!
Image Source / YOU Magazine
But why pictures, you ask? Well, scientists believe that our brains really love visuals. Pictures help us remember things better, and they're a super fun way for our brains to tell stories.

Recurring Dreams Actually Have Ongoing Themes

For the little dreamers out there, kids often find themselves running away from monsters or taking unexpected dives off invisible cliffs in their recurring dreams. It's like their brains are putting on a spooky monster show or turning them into mini superheroes facing big challenges.
Image Source / Dreams -
It makes sense for a recurring dream to also have a recurring theme, but there are themes which are also specific to recurring dreams, and these mostly relate to a sense of threat or something that would worry you. In children, this is most likely to be being chased by a monster or falling.

Some People Dream In Black And White

Now, if you're one of those folks who dream in black and white and always wondered if it's just you, congratulations! You're part of a small and special group of dreamers. It's like having a VIP pass to a monochrome dream club.
Image Source / Pixpa
Have you ever dreamed in black and white? Or are all your dreams vivid colour? Some people actually do dream in black and white - around 12 percent, in fact. So if you do dream in black and white and thought this was normal, congrats - you're in a very small percentage of rare people!

Dreams Are So Strange Because The 'Make Sense' Part Of Your Brain Turns Off During Sleep

Ever had a dream that left you scratching your head, wondering, "What on Earth was that all about?" Well, you're not alone. Dreams have this knack for being downright peculiar, and there's a simple reason for it – when we dream, our brains decide to take a little break from making sense of things.
Image Source / Wikipedia
When it comes to dreaming, all rational thought goes out the window. That's why dreams can be so darn weird a lot of the time. The part of your brain that's responsible for making sense of information actually shuts down during dreaming. So it's more likely nothing is going to make sense.

Your Daily Routine Could Be Setting Up The Plot For Your Dreams

Alright, imagine your brain is like a super cool movie director. Now, think about your day—everything you did, people you met, and even the little thoughts running around in your head. Well, guess what? Your brain, being the movie director it is, loves to take all those things and turn them into a special nighttime show: your dreams!
Image Source / The Spruce
What happens throughout your day, or even the previous day, alongside your thoughts about what happens during this time are all likely to be the subject of your dreams. Granted, they might be a weird and warped version of what happened in your day, but still.

You're Most Likely To Dream About Faces You've Already Seen

Have you ever wondered why the characters in your dreams often seem like a mishmash of familiar faces? Your dream world is a bit like a memory vault, and your brain is the curator. It likes to pull out faces you've stored away, kind of like flipping through a photo album.
Image Source / EL PAIS in English
This could be people you know well, such as family and friends, or it could even be that random person you saw on a TV advert for 5 seconds once. Your dreams are most likely to have the faces of people you've already seen, at some point in your life.

Less Stress = Happier Dreaming

So, picture this: you're going about your day, stress levels through the roof because of work, school, or whatever life throws at you. That night, you hit the hay, and boom! You find yourself in a dream where everything that could go wrong does. It's like a stress party in your brain.
Image Source / Verywell Mind
It may go without saying, as we all know those horrible anxiety-ridden dreams we might get when we're really stressed in our daily life. But it's true that if you're feeling more at ease and not really worrying about anything in your daily life, then happy dreams are much more likely.

Sex Dreams Aren't Actually That Common

So, what's the deal with that? Why aren't our dreams filled with more romantic escapades? It's a bit surprising, considering how our dreams can be like a free pass to let our imaginations run wild. Scientists and dream experts have been scratching their heads about this one.
Image Source / Healthline
In the land of your subconscious and where dreams and fantasies can be played out, you'd think sex dreams were more common than they actually are. But only around 4 percent of people actually have sex dreams.

What Happens To A Man's Body During A Sex Dream?

the next time one awakens to find an unanticipated visitor, there's no need to blame the nocturnal adventures of the mind. Instead, appreciate the marvel of the body's nocturnal imagination.
Image Source / Medical News Today
It's actually the case that 'morning wood' doesn't really have anything to do with whether a man has had a sex dream or not. Something called 'nocturnal penile tumescence' actually causes erections during a man's sleep, and is not actually stimulated by the dream he's having.

What Happens To A Woman's Body During A Sex Dream?

Just as men experience nocturnal emissions, women, too, have the capacity to release vaginal discharge and even achieve orgasm during sleep if the dream is sexually arousing enough.
Image Source / Refinery29
Women can have 'wet dreams', too, and what happens to a woman's body during sleep if this is the particular dream topic is she can actually release vaginal discharge (in the same way as being aroused) and even orgasm during sleep, if the dream is stimulating enough!

Sleeping Face Down Can Actually Affect What You Dream About

Delving into the fascinating connection between sleeping facedown and the manifestation of sex dreams opens a gateway to the complex interplay between body and mind during the nocturnal odyssey.
Image Source / Philadelphia Inquirer
Sleeping facedown can actually make it more likely that you'll have a sex dream, but that's not all it can encourage. If you sleep on your stomach, you might be more likely to dream about being unable to breathe, being naked, being locked up or swimming.

Sleep Sex - Like Sleep Walking - Is Actually A Real Thing

Officially recognized as a subtype of parasomnia, sexsomnia is a condition that elevates the complexity of human behavior during the night. It's a phenomenon that blurs the boundaries between wakefulness and sleep, challenging our understanding of the intricate mechanisms governing the sleeping mind.
Image Source / Medpage Today
Just another amazing (and weird) thing your body can do while you're asleep is actually have sex. Just like sleep walking, your body can move to engage in sexual behaviour, even full intercourse. It's a condition called sexsomnia.

Nightmares Are More Likely To Happen At A Certain Time Of Night

Scientists and sleep researchers have delved into the peculiar chronicles of nightmares, unearthing a fascinating connection between their occurrence and the unfolding tapestry of our sleep cycles.
Image Source / PsyPost
Nightmares are actually set up to occur at a certain time of night - and if you have them frequently, they're more likely to happen at the same sort of time, every time. Nightmares are most common in the last third of the night's sleep cycle. Which is probably why a lot of people wake up from a nightmare at the 'witching hour' of 3am. Creepy.

'Grief Dreams' Are A Thing

The phenomenon of grief dreams emerges as a poignant and often profound aspect of the emotional journey through loss. Grief dreams, defined by the manifestation of departed loved ones in the realm of dreams, serve as a unique avenue for processing and navigating the complex terrain of grief.
Image Source / NBC News
Grief dreams are when you dream about loved ones who have passed on. They're also more common during the holiday season, at a time when you're meeting up with family and friends, and also at a time when you're more reminded of their absence.

Nightmares Are More Likely If Your Metabolism Is Increased

The notion that consuming cheese before bedtime induces nightmares finds its roots in the understanding that eating too close to sleep can have repercussions on our physiological processes. Regardless of the culinary culprit, be it cheese or any other fare, the key factor lies in the timing of the meal.
Image Source / Wikipedia
There's a saying that if you eat cheese before bed it can give you nightmares - which is true, but only because it's more about eating late, no matter what the food item. If you eat too close to bed time, your metabolism increases and makes your brain and body more 'switched on' - which can then make nightmares more likely.

Recurring Nightmares Could Actually Be A Recognised Disorder

Nightmare disorder is characterized by the recurrence of intense, frightening dreams that often provoke significant emotional distress. The impact extends beyond the nocturnal hours, permeating into waking life and, at times, hindering the ability to function effectively.
Image Source / Consequence of Sound
If you have nightmares regularly, it's not as simple as 'oh it was just a bad dream, you'll be fine'. If your nightmares are so bad that you're constantly distressed and even find it hard to function properly, you might have a condition known as nightmare disorder.

Nobody Actually Knows Why We Dream

Dreams unfurl as threads of the inexplicable, weaving narratives that range from the profoundly meaningful to the downright absurd. Yet, the mystery deepens when we acknowledge that even the greatest minds, luminaries whose intellectual brilliance has illuminated the darkest corners of human understanding.
Image Source / Behavioral Scientist
Dreams are fascinating, but the most fascinating thing of all can be that nobody actually knows why we dream. Even the biggest and brightest of the world haven't been able to figure out why you have stupid dreams about losing your underwear or your teeth falling out. Why do our brains feel the need to play out a movie every night? That's the question.