Dreaming of Sugar Plums?

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

December 15, 2014

dreaming, more dreams, REM deprivation, REM sleep

Christmas baby and Christmas puppy“T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads…”

Do you remember your dreams? If you don’t remember a couple of dreams per week there could be one of two things going on. First, you might be out of practice. Dreams don’t play a big role in most modern societies, and like most mental skills, if you don’t practice remembering your dreams, you lose the skill.

To improve your ability to recall your dreams, keep a dream journal and pen beside your bed. Every time you wake up, immediately pull out the journal and write down any fleeting images of a dream you can remember. If you can’t remember a dream, then make something up and write it down. Within a week you will start remembering your dreams. With even more practice, you can become what we call a high frequency recaller.

The second explanation for not remembering your dreams is that you might not be getting enough REM sleep. Most of our dreaming occurs during REM sleep. In fact, if you wake someone up from REM sleep, 8 times out of 10 they will recall a dream[1, 2] versus maybe only one or two times during the other stages of sleep.

Not remembering your dreams isn’t a problem. But not getting enough REM sleep can be serious. REM deprivation can lead to moodiness, memory problems and learning difficulties[3].

Here are few tips to help you get your REM sleep and keep those sugar plums dancing in your head:

  1. Our longest REM periods happen near the end of a night of sleep; don’t cut your sleep short, make sure you get 8 hours of shut-eye every night.
  2. Stop snoring. Snoring can be a sign you have sleep apnea which can significantly reduce your REM sleep.  Check out SnorBan.
  3. Research the drugs you are taking. Some medications can reduce REM sleep, these include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, L-tryptophan, narcotics, tricyclic and MAOI antidepressants, clonidine, and lithium.
  4. Don’t drink alcohol in the evening.
  5. Don’t eat or drink anything containing caffeine in the evening.
  6. Stop smoking.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season and Sweet Dreams.



[1] Dement, W., & Kleitman, N. (1957). The relation of eye movements during sleep to dream activity: An objective method for the study of dreaming. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53, 339-346.

[2] Lavie, P. (1996). Dreams: Creatures of the brain. In The Enchanted World of Sleep (pp. 65-73). New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

[3] REM sleep may support mood regulation, memory consolidation and learning. See for examples:

(A) Dujardin, K., Guerrien, A., & Leconte, P. (1990). Sleep, brain activation, and cognition. Physiology and Behavior, 47, 1271-1278.
(B) Fisher, C., & Dement, W. (1963). Studies on the psychopathology of sleep and dreams. American Journal of Psychiatry, 119, 1160-1168.
(C) Mandai, O., Guerrien, A., Sockeel, P., Dujardin, K., Leconte, P. (1989). REM sleep modification following a morse code learning session in humans. Physiology and Behavior, 46, 639-642.
(D) Smith, C., & Lapp, L. (1991). Increases in number of REMs and REM density in humans following an intensive learning period. Sleep, 14, 325-330.

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