A New Study Says We’re Not Dreaming Enough, and Here’s Why That’s Not Good

You don’t know how important your dreams are until you don’t have any. No, we’re not talking about depression or ennui — we’re talking about literal dreamless sleep, and a new study says that as a society we have collectively entered “Dream Deprivation” in epidemic proportions.

New research from University of Arizona psychologist Rubin Naiman focuses on dream loss and the ensuing public health crisis that a lack of REM sleep is causing us overall. Brought on by a combination of lifestyle factors, substance use, sleep disorders, and, “indirectly, a dismissive attitude about the value and meaning of dreams,” Naiman’s paper — titled Dreamless: The Silent Epidemic of REM Sleep Loss — is an eye-opening (pun intended) look at the unintended consequences of not valuing a good night’s sleep, or not prioritizing it in the same way that we obsess about productivity.

Featured this week on The Cut (along with the full and detailed analysis of the paper, which is highly worth a read), Naiman defines dreams by what happens in their absence: irritability, depression, weight gain, hallucinations, erosion of reason, memory, and immune system functions, and a loss of spirituality. While he also notes that we’ve known about these consequences since the 1960s, when researchers ran experiments depriving subjects of only REM sleep found that subjects experienced same catastrophic side effects as those who’d faced total sleep deprivation.

From the article:

“What Naiman doesn’t say, but feels relevant, is that it is especially hard to safeguard our dream sleep because there’s so little social or financial incentive to do so. For most of us, sleeping falls lower on the priority list than both work and play. And getting the recommended amount of sleep — seven to nine hours a night — isn’t as trendy as so many other wellness-focused habits.”

Recently, we wrote about another scientific study that confirmed that our sleep deprivation is also ruining our relationships — but big business seems to be picking up on the fact that we’re starting to pay more and more attention to the value of sleep, if the online war to sell us a “better” mattress (a $15B and growing industry) are any indication.

Read the full study in the Annals of The New York Academy of Arts and Sciences (Wiley), or read the story, “We’re in a ‘Dream Deprivation’ Epidemic”, on The Cut.

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