At the bottom of many of the health issues attributed to sleep loss lies a hidden epidemic of dream loss, according to a newly published review of data.
The paper, by Rubin Naiman, PhD, a sleep and dream specialist at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, describes the diverse factors that cause rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dream loss.
Usually sleep follows a pattern in which deeper, non-REM sleep is prioritized by the body. Only later in the night and into the early morning do people experience dreaming, during REM sleep.
Dream Loss Dangers
The dangers of sleep deprivation are pronounced on the roads. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, one in every five serious motor vehicle injuries is related to driver fatigue, with 80,000 drivers falling asleep behind the wheel every day and 250,000 accidents every year related to sleep,.
But, notes Dr. Naiman:
“We are at least as dream-deprived as we are sleep-deprived. Many of our health concerns attributed to sleep loss actually result from REM sleep deprivation.”
Naiman is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. He sees REM/dream loss as an unrecognized public health hazard that silently wreaks havoc by contributing to illness, depression and an erosion of consciousness.
Among the causes behind the loss of dreams and REM sleep, the study includes the use of alcohol and cannabis as a self-medication for stress and to facilitate sleep. Alcohol causes the release of hormones that significantly disrupt REM/dreaming.
There are also many commonly used medications which are known to potentially disrupt REM/dreaming, such as benzodiazepines, SSRI antidepressants and tricyclic and older monoamine oxidase inhibitor antidepressants, the latter of which eliminate almost all dreaming and REM sleep.
Then there are sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, insomnia and insufficient sleep syndrome. Not to mention lifestyle factors like the excessive use of artificial light at night, particularly in urban centers.
One of the most remarkable statements in the paper is that the reason for the current situation is we do not value our dreams sufficiently. The Rolling Stones once sang, in the song Ruby Tuesday: “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.”
If that is true, then we are in trouble.
Dreamless: the silent epidemic of REM sleep loss
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci.. doi:10.1111/nyas.13447