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How Do Dreams Work? Research Shows It’s a Complicated Process

We all dream. It’s a part of sleep that just happens, sometimes with surprising things occurring in a dream that we’d never see happen in real life. As such, dreams are a fascinating facet of sleep that keeps scientists wondering about how the brain works to produce these figments of our imagination.

Now, scientists have found there may two genes at the root of why we dream, Bustle reports, and without these genes we wouldn’t experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the part of your sleep when dreams are produced. Researchers believe their findings may help develop more effective treatments for both sleep and mental health disorders.

A few years ago I interviewed sleep and dream expert Rubin Naiman about how sleeping and dreaming affects your health. Early in his career as a psychologist, Naiman recognized that it was difficult for people to move forward or to address and heal emotional issues if they were tired or sleepy, and with this revelation, he decided to begin focusing entirely on sleep and dreams and how they tie into your physical — and even spiritual — health.

This year I talked with sleep scientist and author Matthew Walker about sleep and why we sleep, and between the two I’ve come away with some real insights on why sleep is so crucial to your health. If for no other reason, it’s important that you get good, quality sleep because more than 20 large-scale epidemiological studies, tracking millions of people over many years, show that the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

Add the mental and physical effects that sleep deprivation has on your body, such as increased risk for addictions, poor decision-making, heart attack and other serious diseases like cancer, and you have a recipe for chronic illness and early death if you don’t indulge in good sleep habits. Regardless of your thoughts on the topic, research linking sleep deprivation to chronic disease and shorter life spans cannot be ignored —there is no substitute for a full night’s rest.

Please see my article, “Sleep — Why You Need It and 50 Ways to Improve It,” for guidelines on how much sleep you need, according to your age (children are included here!) and the science behind the consequences of insufficient sleep. You’ll also learn how to diagnose whether you are sleep deprived and, of course, the 50 tips to get you started toward a good night’s rest and, hopefully, sweet dreams.

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