Drink & Dream at Your Own Risk

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You're running, running as fast as your legs will propel you. Three spectral figures chase after you, all of them hooded and cloaked. Jagged rocks and broken rubble litter the terrain. You're not sure how you got to this deserted, desolate cityscape, but you know you want to get out. Everything is so real. The dust below your feet crunches and gravel ricochets as you stampede across the tattered ground. The scene's colors are monotone, yet still eerily vibrant. Your pursuers are almost upon you. You can feel the scrape of their outstretched hands and hear the wheeze of their breathing. They've almost got you! You dodge to the side to escape their clutches and then...

...You wake up with your heart pounding and quickly whirl around to check for your pursuers. They're not there. Whew.

Vivid dreams are a double-edged sword. They can be extremely pleasurable, but they can also be terrifying to such a degree that they leave you mentally shaken and physically hyperventilating upon awakening.

Curiously, you may have noticed that drinking alcohol before going to sleep can produce a preponderance of dreams such as these. The evidence for this actually extends beyond the anecdotal. Allow me to explain.

Vivid dreams often occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a cycle characterized by quick, random movement of the eyes and elevated activity in the neurons of the cerebral cortex. We commonly spend about 20% of sleep in this cycle, the time spread over four to five separate bouts throughout a nightly slumber. The bouts of REM are short at first, and then grow longer in duration as sleep continues.

Intake of alcohol helps one to fall asleep faster, but it actually suppresses REM. Thus, someone who falls asleep under the influence will spend much of their slumber in slow-wave sleep, the stages right before REM.

But wait, if alcohol suppresses REM, and REM is they stage at which we vividly dream, then how can drinking induce vivid dreaming?  

Well, after four or five hours, your body will usually metabolize almost all of the alcohol in your system. Once this occurs, REM is no longer suppressed, and a "REM rebound" effect takes place. When our brains are deprived of REM sleep, even for only a matter of hours, they compensate by boosting the duration of REM sleep and increasing the ease at which we enter this phase.

During REM rebound, dreams can also be more intense. A 2005 study by Dr. Tore Nielson, director of the Dream and Nightmare Lab found that subjects deprived of REM sleep rated their dreams to be of higher quality.

And because this alcohol-induced REM rebound occurs during the latter half of our doze,and since we are easily aroused from REM sleep, we can often recall with lucid detail the vivid dreams from which we awake.

With this in mind, drink and dream at your own risk!

741px-John_Henry_Fuseli_-_The_Nightmare.JPGBeware. If you drink, you may be tormented in the night!
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