The last time you woke up from a dream, you may have wondered why exactly you were back at high school, standing in front of your locker, unable for the life of you to remember the combination. When it comes to dream meanings, most of us expect those visions to reveal mental health truths, whether they be feelings about a life event, relationship or simply a memory.
But after recent research highlighted a potential link between acting out dreams and a common form of dementia, perhaps there is more we can learn about our physical health from our dreams.
The research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, found that men with a risk factor for dementia with Lewy bodies, in addition to what's known as REM sleep behavior disorder, are five times more likely to have this type of dementia. The same sleep disorder has also been linked to Parkinson's disease, symptoms of which are similar to those of dementia with Lewy bodies.
Anecdotally, some say that dreams have predicted cancer, alerted a patient to tuberculosis or even warned of a heart attack. There's little -- if any -- scientific evidence that certain dream symbols can be interpreted to predict any real health symptoms. But there is some concrete proof that more dreams, stranger dreams or recurring dreams could have important meaning when it comes to your physical health.
You Have A Fever
If you're the type to ignore the signs that you're under the weather, maybe a freaky nightmare will prove the point. Being sick can trigger nightmares, according to the Mayo Clinic, especially if your illness is accompanied by a fever. If you weren't paying attention to what your body was trying to tell you before, the morning after that weird nightmare is the time to tune in!
Stress Is Getting The Best Of You
You might also be ignoring signs that you're more than a little stressed out. When we ignore what's taxing us, those stressors can follow us to bed. Sometimes, stress can manifest itself as common dream themes like missing a plane or an oncoming tidal wave, according to DoctorOz.com. Other times, a particularly bizarre dream might help you realize it's time to slow down. Some say that stress dreams might actually be helpful if they reveal what's truly bothering you and point to why you're feeling that way.
Your Blood Sugar Could Be Low
If people with diabetes experience a serious dip in blood sugar, one possible symptom can be bad dreams and nightmares, according to WebMD. Taking too much insulin or certain medications can cause this drop, called hypoglycemia. Of course, most people with diabetes will learn to recognize early symptoms of low blood sugar before nightmares point out the problem. But hypoglycemia can occur during sleep.
Pregnant? Good News!
Many a mother can attest to dreaming more while pregnant. Over those nine months, dreams seem to increase in general, but strange or vivid dreams can become particularly common. Although more -- and scarier -- dreams aren't necessarily pleasant, a mom-to-be with strange or upsetting dreams might actually be in luck: An Israeli study of 166 pregnant women found that the more harrowing dreams a woman had, the less likely she was to develop postpartum depression. And an Italian study of 290 women linked more dreams (and more upsetting dreams) with shorter labor times.
It May Be Time To Consult A Mental Health Specialist
If stress and anxiety can cause such strange and often upsetting dreams, it should come as no surprise that more serious mental health conditions can similarly interrupt your sleep. Bipolar disorder is known to cause vivid or bizarre dreams in some people, according to WebMD. And a study of Vietnam veterans found that 52 percent of combat vets with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had nightmares fairly often, compared to only 3 percent of civilians, according to the U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs. If you find yourself experiencing nightmares or very vivid dreams frequently, considering discussing your sleep with your doctor. Seeking treatment for both of these conditions can improve the quality of your sleep.