You may recall morning dreams more often—and more vividly—than other dreams. That's due to the stages of sleep and how they relate to dreaming.
The vivid nature of morning dreams and how "real" they sometimes feel make some people wonder if these dreams are more likely to come true, or if they're related to deja vu. Experts believe this phenomenon is relates to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages that occur towards morning combined with your brain playing a trick on you.
Sleep Stages and Dreaming
During the night, your brain goes through four to six cycles called sleep stages. In each cycle, there are periods of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep followed by brief intervals of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Fragmentary dreams—often simple ideas or images—can occur in NREM sleep, but the most elaborate dream experiences occur during REM. It's during REM sleep that your brain actively dreams.
Each of the cycles of sleep last approximately 90 minutes. As morning approaches, the NREM periods become shorter and the REM becomes longer.
Morning REM Sleep and Dream Recall
Because of your sleep cycles, as you get closer to morning, your chance of experiencing dream sleep during REM increases, and when REM sleep is interrupted, you're most likely to remember vivid dreams.
Moreover, your sleep drive, or desire to sleep, lessens the longer you sleep. Therefore, you are more likely to be restless and awaken as the morning approaches, thus increasing the chance you will interrupt these increasingly prolonged REM periods.
It is also during REM sleep that sleep apnea is most likely to happen. This may be due to the muscle relaxation that occurs to prevent dreams from being acted out. The muscles of the airway may become relaxed and this may interrupt breathing and lead to an awakening—again, making you more likely to remember a dream.
As a result of each of these factors in combination, you are much more likely to remember your dreams right before you get up in the morning.
Dreams and REM Sleep
Vivid Morning Dreams and Deja Vu
Experts have found no evidence that vivid dreams are more likely to come true or result in the phenomenon of deja vu.
Many, many people do have dream experiences that they later feel have come true, but this may have to do with certain electrical patterns of the brain that cause a false sense of familiarity rather than any ability to predict the future through dreaming.
A Word From Verywell
If you have distressing morning dreams or nightmares, talk to your doctor. You may benefit from dream rehearsal therapy. If early morning awakenings plague your sleep, consider insomnia treatments or testing for obstructive sleep apnea.
Most REM occurs in the last third of the night. As a result, many people will wake out of their last REM period and recall a dream first thing in the morning.
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Siclari F, Baird B, Perogamvros L, et al. The neural correlates of dreaming. Nat Neurosci. 2017 Jun;20(6):872-878. doi:10.1038/nn.4545
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Updated August 13, 2019.
Alzoubaidi M, Mokhlesi B. Obstructive sleep apnea during rapid eye movement sleep: clinical relevance and therapeutic implications. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2016 Nov;22(6):545-54. doi:10.1097/MCP.0000000000000319
Nigro S, Cavalli SM, Cerasa A, et al. Functional activity changes in memory and emotional systems of healthy subjects with deja vu. Epilepsy Behav. 2019 Aug;97:8-14. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2019.05.018
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