We’ve all been jolted awake by crazy-intense dreams that leave a permanent mark on our soul. Whether they’re ones we look back on fondly (like when your high school crush proposed to you) or nightmares that trigger a gag reflex (basically, every naked-in-public dream), some are impossible to shake off. But what makes some nights more whacked out than others? Here are eight possible culprits:
1. You Ate Spicy Foods Before Bed
Step away from the pad Thai—noshing on fiery foods before bed is a possible cause of nightmares, says Robert S. Rosenberg, doctor of osteopathic medicine, board-certified sleep medicine specialist, and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. “They may do this by increasing metabolism and body temperature, which can increase brain activity, especially during REM sleep (the stage where dreams take place),” he says.
2. You’re Taking Melatonin Supplements
When good quality sleep is hard to come by, melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, says Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in North Carolina. Reacquainting yourself with REM sleep increases the intensity of your dreams because your bod is essentially making up for lost time (or rather, sleep). There’s currently no recommended dose for melatonin supplements, so it’s best to check in with your doc for a consult—especially since higher doses may cause anxiety and irritability.
3. You Watched TV Before Bed
Getting your binge-watch on just before falling asleep may lead to some pretty funky dream sequences. “Our dreams come from our subconscious mind, so if you expose yourself to a TV show (or even a book) that has a strong emotional component for you personally, your mind may give it more significance and focus on it more, causing it to come out in your dreams,” says Steve Orma, Psy.D. In other words, we should all start falling asleep exclusively to Channing Tatum movies.
4. You’ve Recently Stopped Taking a Medication
Common antidepressants such as Paxil and Zoloft, as well as psychostimulants such as Ritalin, have been known to suppress dream sleep, says Rosenberg. Stopping medications like these can cause your dreams to come back in full force. “You’ll experience more REM sleep for several days than you have in years,” he says. “This can result in a flood of vivid dreams as well as nightmares.” Crazy dreams can also strike after stopping chronic drinking or marijuana use, he adds.
5. You Have Sleep Apnea
Because sleep apnea effs with your breathing during shut-eye, that drop in oxygen as you’re dreaming can cause disturbing and vivid dreams, says Rosenberg. If you feel uber-sluggish even after a solid eight hours or your S.O. gives you crap about your snoring on the regular, you may want to get in touch with a sleep specialist.
6. You Didn’t Sleep Well the Night Before
When you’re sleep-deprived, there’s a good chance that you’ll experience a more intense dose of REM sleep the following night, known as REM rebound, says Rosenberg. And you know what that means: More intense dreams, coming right up.
7. You’re Perma-Stressed
The stress and anxiety you experience during the day can also do a number on your dreams—and may be your brain’s way of processing and working through negative emotions. “It’s during REM sleep that we believe most emotional modification takes place,” says Rosenberg. Dream on.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
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