Posted on October 19 2016
Have your dreams stopped since you started smoking marijuana? There’s more to the story than you might think. In this first segment of our Sweet Dreams series, we’re going to examine one important question: can marijuana prevent dreams?
Can marijuana stop dreams?
You may have noticed that marijuana can really knock you out. A few puffs of a strong indica before bed, and the next thing you know its daylight and you’ve nearly slept through your alarm. Yet, can this powerful sleep aid cause you to sleep so hard that you don’t even dream? It sure looks that way. To understand marijuana’s impact on our ability to dream, we need to take a closer look into our sleep cycles.
Understanding sleep cycles
When we sleep, we go through four primary stages of sleep. Each of these phases occurs in about a 90-minute sleep cycle. During any given night, we go through four or five sleep cycles. Each phase has a specific function during the sleep cycle.
This stage is an extremely light sleep when we first begin to fall asleep. Our muscles begin to relax, our heart rate and eye moment start to slow down, and we may experience fragmented or partial thoughts or visions. It’s really easy to wake up during this stage. When you fall asleep on a bus or while watching TV, then suddenly wake up with a jerk, you’ve just awoken from the very beginning of the sleep cycle.
During stage two, your eye movement stops. Your body begins to relax even more, and brainwaves begin to slow down. Brainwaves are the measurable electrical impulses produced when neurons communicate with each other. During this stage, the busy nature of thinking begins to slow, as neurons are becoming more inactive. The body is preparing for deep sleep.
The third phase of a sleep cycle is deep sleep. Deep sleep is when your body takes the time to repair itself. Waste products produced by the brain are cleared out, blood flows out of the brain and into muscles, and muscles and tissues are repaired. Your brain is at its slowest point. Deep sleep is vital if you want to wake up and feel refreshed the next day. It’s also essential to maintaining good physical health, as damages that accrue in a day are healed during this sleep stage. It is extremely difficult to wake up when you’re in deep sleep. If you regularly sleep through your alarm, you might have been in deep sleep.
Deep sleep is vital if you want to wake up and feel refreshed the next day. It’s also essential to maintaining good physical health, as damages that accrue in a day are healed during this sleep stage. It is extremely difficult to wake up when you’re in deep sleep. If you regularly sleep through your alarm, you might have been in deep sleep.
As you get older, you tend to spend less time in deep sleep. However, aging adults still need the same amount of deep sleep as they did when they were younger.
“REM” stands for rapid eye movement. This is the last stage of the sleep cycle, and perhaps the most talked about. REM sleep is dreaming sleep. This is the period of sleep typically occurs right before waking, and is when you’re closest to consciousness. During REM sleep, your mind becomes quite active, breathing becomes shallow and irregular, heart rate increases, and blood pressure rises. REM sleep is
During REM sleep, your mind becomes quite active, breathing becomes shallow and irregular, heart rate increases, and blood pressure rises. REM sleep is thought to play a part in storing memories, balancing mood, and learning.
You only remember your dreams if you happen to wake up in the middle of this stage. As morning approaches, you spend more time in REM sleep, which is why you often remember dreams right when you wake up.
How does marijuana affect dreams?
Here is a simple explanation of a complex biological process: marijuana reduces dreams because it extends your time in deep sleep and reduces your time in REM sleep.Since REM sleep is when you dream, cannabis shortens the time that you are capable of dreaming. As you spend more time in deep sleep, you also increase your chances of waking up from a deep sleep as well. This can cause mental fog,
As you spend more time in deep sleep, you also increase your chances of waking up from a deep sleep as well. This can cause mental fog, sluggishness, and will prevent you from remembering your dreams. Perhaps this is why many people feel groggy after a night of smoking.
In an interview with VICE, somnologist (sleep specialist) Dr. Hans Hamburger of the Holland Sleep Center explains why this sleep alteration is important:
“By smoking weed, you suppress the REM sleep, and with that you also suppress a lot of important functions of that REM sleep. One of those functions is reliving the things you have experienced and coming to terms with them, as it were. Processing all kinds of psychological influences is something you do in REM sleep.
You also anticipate the things that will happen the next day or the days after that. While you’re sleeping, you already consider those and make decisions in advance.” – Hamburger
For folks who enjoy dreaming, this is bad news bears. But, extended time in deep sleep is beneficial for those haunted by vivid nightmares. Specifically in the case of those with post-traumatic stress disorder, marijuana has anecdotally proven to be highly effective in suppressing nightmares. After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s not uncommon to experience intense, vivid dreams related to the trauma. These nightmares can make it more difficult to fall back to sleep and have negative consequences the next day.
While some people may feel a little fuzzy the morning after smoking marijuana, in others this dreamless sleep might be preferable. Regardless, if you’ve been smoking/vaping/eating marijuana for quite a while, you may have noticed a decrease in dreaming. Turns out, it’s not just you. The herb really does influence our dreaming sleep.