How Long Do Dreams Last? Can You Control Them?

how-long-dreams-last

How long do dreams last? A great dream can make you feel like you’ve been in the dream realm for hours, but that’s unfortunately not true. Dreams don’t last that long at all, ranging from 5–45 minutes long—let’s break it down and explain the truth.

What Are Dreams?

Everyone knows what dreams are. They’re the vivid hallucinations you have while you sleep, often living out a mixture of impossible fantasies and mundane tasks.

These vivid dreams aren’t the only dreams you experience during sleep, but they’re the dreams we’ll focus on as they’re the most widely known, talked about and recalled.

Experts haven’t yet figured out why we dream, but there are several theories that people subscribe to.

Memory Consolidation

Some experts believe that dreams help us recall and compile our memories in sleep. It’s a process that helps us retain and process memories well.

While we process memories stress-free with sleep, this doesn’t explain why we often dream of outlandish things that have nothing to do with our memories.

Unlearning

Other experts theorize that dreams may be our brain’s way of unlearning information, or essentially, clearing the air inside the mind.

For example, if you have an unwanted thought that may cause you to stress in waking life, it comes up in a dream so you get it over and done with. Your brain has it dealt with and deposited like waste matter, essentially relieving your brain of the burden.

However, this is not a widely accepted theory and remains unconfirmed.

Memory Transfer

The theory-based article linked above also suggests that dreaming could be a form of memory transfer. During dreams, your memories move from the hippocampus and neocortex sections of the brain.

So far, this theory has yet to be proven.

Personal Insight

This theory suggests that dreams are a source of personal insight, “metaphorical representations of waking life.” The theory states that dreams may help people learn about themselves, their emotions and their views.

Unfortunately, there are no studies on the theory that confirm or deny it. The theory came from anecdotes and case studies rather than wide, repeated and peer-reviewed studies.

Even therapists have and psychologists have weighed in on this theory, many of them feeling that it’s false. They state, “I never learned anything from a client’s dreams that I did not already know.” This points away from the theory that your dreams can reveal parts of you that you don’t know in the waking world.

Warnings

This is a more widely known theory, the ever-famous Sigmund Freud’s. He suggests that dreams are warning us of things yet to come and that recurring dreams are trying to inform us of something happening in the waking world.

It’s a theory focused on subconscious desires, thoughts and motivations that many people believe.

Thus far, there is no evidence supporting the truth to this theory.

Consensus

Despite many theories, none have been proven true. Right now all we know about dreams is that they’re vivid sleep hallucinations that can be terrific or terrors.

We do know that people often experience intense emotions in their dreams, but that’s about it.

When Do We Dream?

We sleep in stages—the first three are NREM, the third is REM which stands for rapid eye movement. While technically we can dream during any of these stages, we dream the most during REM.

REM sleep starts in short bursts and gets longer throughout the night. The first instance of REM sleep only lasts about 10 minutes, where the last can be up to an hour-long.

Between all of these REM sleep sessions, you spend about 2 hours dreaming throughout the night. This isn’t all in one block but scattered through 4–6 dreams over your slumberous period according to several experts.

Each dream may be seconds long, or up to 45 minutes in length according to various dream coaches.

Do We Remember All Our Dreams?

Almost everyone forgets some of, if not all of their dreams. Some sources say that 95 percent of people forget their dreams, and this is especially prevalent in people who are deprived of REM sleep.

Since your most vivid dreams occur during REM sleep, these are the dreams you’re likely to remember.

Some people theorize that more creatively-minded people will have an easier time remembering their dreams, especially if they’re prone to daydreaming. This leaves the more focused people who base their lives around practicality vulnerable to forgetting their dreams.

There are also studies that reveal your brain can actively choose what not to remember after a dream. One hormone produced during sleep impairs your ability to make memories while in REM sleep.

Improving Dream Recall

Some people wish to remember their dreams and while there’s no scientific study to help you with this, there are some practices that people believe will help you with dream recall.

  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Relax and wind down before you go to sleep—no screens allowed during this time.
  • Drink a lot of water before bed so your body wakes you up to go to the bathroom after a REM cycle.
  • Concentrate on remembering your dreams before you go to sleep.
  • Start a dream journal and write down what you know—over time you’ll remember more until you can eventually remember full dreams.

Can We Control Our Dreams?

Most people can’t control their dreams. You’re asleep, as is your conscious mind, and your dreams happen to you.

The urge to control your dreams may still be there, though—especially if you’re prone to night terrors, or you don’t love life right now and want to create a dreamscape you can enjoy.

That’s where lucid dreaming comes in. Lucid dreaming is a whole other beast to wrestle with when it comes to thinking about dreaming, but there are many studies on it and psychologists have been thinking about and debating lucid dreaming for decades.

If you wish to achieve lucid dreaming there are many methods you can use such as waking yourself up during REM sleep, moving your fingers while you call back asleep, then you enter the dream while consciously moving your fingers. However, they all time a lot of time, practice, and further explanation.

Lucid dreams, like regular dreams, can last seconds to around 45 minutes, but they often feel longer as you’re subconsciously awake and in control during them.

How Can We Make Our Dreams Last Longer?

Like most areas relating to dreams, no studies show us ways that can make our dreams last longer. Even when you Google the term, all the results relate to lucid dreaming and not natural dreaming. There are some tips such as taking a melatonin supplement or reducing stimulants, but the advice is pretty generic.

If you want to improve your sleep quality in the hopes you can increase the time spent in dreamland, watch the video below for tips.

Final Thoughts

Dreams can last anywhere from 5–45 minutes and it varies from night to night, person to person. You’ll forget most of the dreams you have, but there are ways to help you remember them if you wish.

If you have any questions or comments about dreams and how long they last, feel free to leave them below.

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