What Is Special About The Dreams Of Depressed People?

What is special about the dreams of depressed people?

Depressed people usually suffer from various sleep disorders. However, science has shown a curious fact, which is that these people dream up to three times more than those who do not suffer from depression. Although such a situation often creates disturbances and fatigue, the dreams of depressed people actually perform a specific function: to regulate their emotional world.

This is certainly a new and unknown topic for many of us. When it comes to depression, the focus is generally on symptoms, triggers or different therapeutic approaches that exist. We rarely face the dream dimension  trying to better understand what happens in the brain of the depressed person when he finally manages to fall asleep.

Freud stated that  dreams are the path to the unconscious. To this statement, in fact, we should add that this path, this particular path, can be a very tortuous and full of curves road, which will lead us nowhere during many nights. It will offer us, however, some spectacular perspectives on what is really going on in our minds.

The dreams of depressed people, by themselves, do not solve the depression. They are simply  a re-enactment of the problem, they are like a Kandinsky canvas that tries to tell us something, to give shape to what makes us suffer, what makes us angry, what scares us, what oppresses us. The dreams of depressed people are a defense mechanism of the brain itself, which tries to regulate the emotion that disturbs it.

Kandinski's work

The REM phase in people suffering from depression

Dr. Rosalind D. Cartwright is a renowned Cornell University psychologist who has devoted much of her life to studying and understanding the dream world. In his famous book 

The Twenty-Four Hour Mind

, for example, addresses the interesting relationship between our emotions and sleep. It is a splendid work, the result of years and years of research in which an idea stands out:  the brain tries to help us manage all our negative emotions through dreams.

The way he does this is as fascinating as it is strange, because in reality the patient does not realize that “dreaming” is somehow helping him through a series of mechanisms,  let’s see them below.

REM phase and dreams of depressed people

  • Patients suffering from depression may experience, for example, daytime sleepiness and severe difficulty falling asleep at night.
  • When they wake up, they generally feel very tired. This is because the night’s rest does not actually make them rest, far from it. Their heads feel “fuller”, they know they have dreamed a lot, but they can’t remember exactly what.
  • What happens is that depressed individuals enter REM phase much earlier. This phase in which dreams appear usually lasts 3 times longer. In practice, depressed people dream three times more than non-depressed ones. It should also be remembered that REM sleep is called “paradoxical sleep” because it does not actually make you rest. Indeed, it is the time when we generate the most adrenaline.
  • Thanks to the new evidence through images and diagnosis, it was possible to see that the limbic system, related to emotions, is more active than ever during the REM phase. Which only happens in patients with depression.
Brain with the limbic system illuminated

Dr. Cartwright explains that  when we sleep, the brain takes control, realizing that the most important thing it can do for us in that moment, even more than give us a restorative physical rest, is to “push” us to resolve our emotional knots. .

Sometimes he does it in the worst possible way, through nightmares and unpleasant dreams, which also happens in the dreams of depressed people. Anything that causes us confusion, anxiety or despair will emerge in this surreal and unknown territory,  as the brain’s attempt to regulate negative motions to “detoxify” such a confused tension.

Patterns of rest in depressed people

We are aware of the fact that “dreaming” three times, having nightmares and opening your eyes in the morning feeling tired is not very useful when dealing with depression. If this information can help us in anything, it is to know our enemy a little better and above all to understand that the brain warns us of the presence of a problem that we must solve.

Knowing this, therefore, it is always useful to apply some strategies related to rest, advisable to improve the sleep of depressed people. They can help us if we are going through a state of this type, whether it is a mild depression, a dysthymia or a more severe depression:

  • We avoid intensifying our emotional charge before going to bed. Ruminating on thoughts will certainly worsen our state and make the REM phase longer, depriving us of the opportunity to enjoy a regenerating physical rest.
  • Exercises like meditation or any other relaxation technique that we know how to use will help us to go to bed with a less active mind.
  • If we take antidepressants, it will be good to evaluate what side effects they may have on sleep and change them if they are excessive.
  • You need to regulate your circadian rhythms. We try to respect a time that is good, to start and end sleep at more or less the same times.
Woman representing not sleeping due to depression

As we progress in the treatment and therapeutic strategy, our REM sleep will improve, it will last less and will allow us to obtain a more satisfying rest, in which the dream world will stop being so convulsive, enigmatic, even terrifying. The brain will stop giving so much importance to our emotions to carry out its usual nocturnal functions: classify significant information, organize experiences, send little useful data into oblivion …

Our inner universe will return to its normal balance, away from nightmares, away from the shadow of depression. She who embraces every area of ​​our being, including sleep.

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