If You Keep Having Crazy Dreams, Here’s What Might Be Going On

Sleep experts break down common reasons for strange dreams.

Whether you wake up remembering them or not, dreaming is a normal part of sleep happening at any part of the sleep cycle, but most commonly during that deep, glorious REM sleep. You may wake up completely unaware of what went down while you were snoozing away. Or, you may wake up with a hazy remembrance of your dreams. Every once in a while, you may shoot straight up and think, “Well that was weird!” If it's happening a lot, you may find yourself wondering, Why am I dreaming so much all of a sudden?

Having an unusual dream can be alarming. You may wonder what brought it on or if it has a deeper meaning. Sleep experts are not only used to hearing first-hand about people’s strange dreams, they also study why they happen in the first place. It turns out there are several scientific reasons for unusual dreams.

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8 Reasons for Having Crazy Dreams

1. You took melatonin

Melatonin is a circadian trigger that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle, and many people take it in supplement form as a sleep aid. According to sleep medicine doctor Dr. Funke Afolabi-Brown, MD, taking a high dose of melatonin is known to cause vivid dreaming in some people. While she says that the reason why this can happen isn’t entirely clear, one theory is that taking melatonin may slightly increase the amount of time someone spends in the dreaming stage of sleep, which ups the chances of experiencing vivid dreaming.

“[Having unusual dreams] is often the first sign that the person has had an overdose of melatonin. I have heard this from many patients,” says TheSleepDoctor.com founder and clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D. Consider this your reminder not to take more than the recommended dose; it won’t help you sleep better and could lead to some pretty strange dreams.

Related: Here's How Sleep Experts Actually Want You To Use Melatonin—and It's Probably Not How You Think

2. You take an SSRI or blood pressure medication

Besides melatonin, Dr. Breus says that certain medications—specifically ones that affect neurotransmitters or the immune response—can affect dreams, potentially causing nightmares. This can include beta-blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), SSRIs (used for depression and other mental health conditions, and antihistamines.

3. You watched or read something disturbing right before going to sleep

“When we watch graphic shows or other disturbing news right before bed without sufficient time to process this prior to sleep, we may run the risk of having dreams or even nightmares related to these experiences,” says Dr. Afolabi-Brown. That means you may want to avoid watching a true crime show or scrolling the headlines on your news app while you wind down in the evening. Videos of cute puppies on the other hand? Totally OK.

Related: Here's Exactly How Many Hours of Sleep You Really Need Every Night, According to Experts

4. You had something spicy for dinner

The jury is still out on if the link between spicy food and unusual dreams is real, but Dr. Breus says that there is some research supporting the connection. The theory for this is that capsaicin (the active component in chili peppers) elevates body temperature during sleep, which then impacts brain waves during sleep. Again, it hasn’t completely been proven yet, but it is one possible reason researchers are exploring.

5. You filled up on dairy before bed

You know what other food could affect your dreams? Cheese. Dr. Breus points to a study showing that between 39 and 44 percent of participants blamed the food group for disturbing dreams. It was blamed more than any other type of food. So if you’re prone to strange dreams, maybe go easy on the pizza and ice cream.

6. You got into an argument with someone

You know that old saying about never going to bed angry? It turns out that there’s more to it than a way to maintain healthy relationships. Dr. Afolabi-Brown says that vivid dreams or nightmares can be affected by our emotions. To this point, one scientific study shows that the same brain waves that occur when someone is angry in their waking life occur when they experience anger while dreaming. Emotions can get in the way of sleep, but they may also influence our dreams too.

7. You’re stressed out

While stress is linked to poor sleep, some research shows that it can also cause someone to dream more than they usually would. One theory for this is that our dreams can help with problem-solving. If you’re worried about something, vividly visualizing different scenarios in your dreams could actually help.

8. You have PTSD

Last, there is a correlation between experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and having nightmares. This is because PTSD can cause the brain to be hypersensitive, staying in a state of fight-or-flight and fixating on traumatic events, including during sleep.

Often, these dreams are connected to the trauma that was experienced. Dr. Afolabi-Brown says that if you have recurring nightmares or a history of PTSD, it’s important to reach out to an expert who specializes in PTSD for help. “There are treatments, such as imagery rehearsal therapy, that are beneficial and also times when medications may be needed,” she says.

Strange dreams may make for an interesting topic of discussion with your friends, but the truth is that they can be detrimental to your health if they are making you scared to go to sleep because you’re worried about what will surface. For this reason, if unusual dreams or nightmares are recurring for you, it’s important to reach out to a sleep doctor for help. They can help you figure out the reason why you may be having disturbing dreams—including one of the reasons listed here—as well as offer tips on how to experience them less. After all, dreams are supposed to be sweet.