What Rarely Dreaming At Night Really Means For You

Our pursuit of high-quality sleep can sometimes feel like a love-hate relationship. If you're a restless sleeper, you may spend most of the night tossing, turning, and irritating any bed partners. If you're a light sleeper, you may dread interruptions from noisy neighbors or bad weather. And if you're a vivid dreamer, you may awake each morning wondering about the meaning behind your dreams.

But what if you're the type of sleeper who doesn't dream at all? For some people, a lack of nightly dreams can feel disappointing — especially when they're regaled by weird stories from more active dreamers. Others might find their barely-there dream schedule to be a relief from nightmares or unpleasant experiences. Either way, it can be important to figure out why your dreams are so elusive.

At face value, you might assume that dreamless sleep — much like the Harry Potter potion of the same name — means a solid block of deep, uninterrupted rest. However, this isn't necessarily true. In some cases, rarely dreaming at night can be a sign of underlying health issues that need your attention ASAP.

Rarely dreaming could be a sign of sleep apnea

Many dreams tend to fade into obscurity after we get up, vanishing back into the foggy corners of our minds. But if you almost never wake up marveling at your brain's outrageous nighttime adventures, this lack of dreams may be more than forgetfulness — it could indicate a slumber-disrupting condition known as sleep apnea.

As the Sleep Foundation explains, sleep apnea is a fairly common disorder in which your breathing gets interrupted while you're unconscious. This could be caused by narrow or obstructed airways, or by a break in neurological communication between your brain and breathing muscles. Not only can this result in snoring, dry mouth, and general sleepiness during the day, but it can directly impact your ability to dream.

"Sleep apnea tends to be worse during REM sleep (the stage in which we have the most vivid dreams) so this stage of sleep becomes very disrupted with frequent awakenings, thereby preventing dreaming," sleep health expert Dr. Sujay Kansagra tells Bustle. REM, which stands for rapid eye movement, is a critical part of our overall sleep cycles. It can be especially important for brain functions like concentration, mood regulation, and long-term memory (via the National Sleep Foundation). So if your REM sleep is constantly being interrupted, you may be missing out on more than dreams — you may find yourself unfocused, irritable, and absent-minded during your waking hours.

What to do if you have sleep disturbances

First and foremost, if you've got all the hallmark signs of sleep apnea, you probably want to get tested for this condition. Local hospitals and other medical centers may offer sleep clinics, where your brain activity can be monitored to determine whether you're suffering from any disturbances. If your suspicions of sleep apnea are confirmed, your doctors may recommend different treatments and lifestyle changes to avoid things that make sleep apnea worse. Those with obstructive sleep apnea, who have blocked or too-tight airways, may be advised to quit smoking, moderate alcohol intake, lose weight, use nasal decongestants, and avoid sleeping on their backs (per Mayo Clinic).

In persistent cases, or if your sleep apnea is caused by neurological issues, you're likely to be directed to use a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine while you sleep. PAP machines come with a mask that fits over your nose or both your nose and mouth to deliver air into your throat and keep your airways working as they should (via the American Academy of Sleep Medicine).

While these may seem like a lot of changes to make, your sleep will thank you. And whatever treatment your physician recommends, caring for sleep apnea and other disturbances can do more than improve your quality of rest — with your return to uninterrupted sleep, you may also find yourself finally returning to dreamland.