How Long Do Dreams Last (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 5 To 20 Minutes

Dreams are the imagery and visuals that an individual watches during asleep. Dreams can be about anything that the human brain can think of and successfully make sensations and images out of them.

Dreams generally differ depending upon what period of sleep cycle one is watching. According to studies, people see dreams mostly during the sleep phase of REM (rapid eye movement). 

Dreams can either be lucid or not. It means that if the observer has the consciousness of the fact that he or she is watching a dream, then it is called a lucid dream. Thus, dreams also have the characteristic of lucidity. This is a scientifically verified characteristic and most of the time, dreams are lucid only.

How Long Do Dreams Last?

While sleeping, the human brain gets into two phases, that is REM (rapid eye movement) phase and the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) phase. 

Dreams can be seen in any of these phases. However, depending on what phase you are watching the dream, the time they last long differ. Not just the time, but the quality of dreams, type of dream, and other such things also.

People are most likely to remember the dreams that they watch during the REM phase of sleep. Moreover, according to studies, it is proved that people see dreams periodically after an interval of 90 to 120 minutes of sleep. Adding to that, people every time the REM phase gets longer than the earlier one, starting from 10 minutes to range up to an hour and even more. 

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In total, dreams that you see while you are in the REM phase of sleeping, then they can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 60 minutes.

Moreover, if people see dreams during the NREM phase of sleeping, then the dreams are not very vivid and are related to daytime thoughts. These dreams are related to what you have in your mind and get affected by mental stress as well. Moreover, people are not likely to remember these dreams after waking up. Moreover, they don’t have a strong visual component, with blurry images and not much inclusion of sensations and emotions. 

Thus, if you see dreams during the NREM phase of sleeping, then would last from a minimum of 5 minutes to a maximum of 20 minutes.

Here is a quick summary of how long do dreams last, according to the sleeping phases:

Sleeping PhaseTime
REM20 to 60 minutes
NREM5 to 20 minutes

Why Do Dreams Last That Long?

The reason why dreams seen during the REM phase of sleep last longer than the NREM phase of sleep is due to the difference in the functioning of the human brain during these two phases.

During the REM phase of sleeping, brain activity and functioning increase a lot. The brain activity is almost similar to that of while you are awake. This is the reason why dreams during this phase have clearer images, visuals, sensations, and emotions as well.

Moreover, the muscles which are in our control like that of arms and legs are unable to move. That means, the body becomes temporarily paralyzed during the REM phase.

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With the brain being active, it works on creating vivid dreams that the observer sees while sleeping. Moreover, the REM phase also gets longer with each interval. That is the reason why these dreams last longer than dreams seen during the NREM phase.

However, the NREM phase is the beginning phase of sleep when the body starts relaxing and gets prepared for deep sleep, which means, to shift to the REM phase of sleep. In this phase, the heart rate decreases, body temperature lowers down and brain functions get a bit relieved. The person is having light sleep. Thus, due to light sleep, and not much functionality of the human brain, the dreams are not clear and people fail to remember such dreams.

Conclusion

Dreams depend mainly on just one factor, which is the sleep phase. However, there could be many other factors that can affect the time the dream can last.

With an increase in age, the time of the REM phase of sleep decreases, and the time of the NREM phase increases. That means the REM phase is the longest in infants, and least in old-aged people. That is why dreams seen by infants last longer than the dreams seen by adults.

Moreover, factors like sleep cycle and time of sleeping also affect dreams. Therefore, it is always recommended for people to have at least 8 hours of sleep.

References

  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1953-06413-000
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1959-00759-000
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