Can Realistic Dreams Affect Your Memories? Short Answer, Yep

We've all had that feeling: You wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if you really did just humiliate yourself in a board meeting. No way you botched your presentation that bad, right? It felt so realistic, but wait — why was Hilary Duff there? 

She said it herself: "This is what dreams are made of." While you're trying to recharge from the day, hyperrealistic scenarios will take over your subconscious. Usually, you'll get lucky and there will be a glaring inconsistency between your dream world and your day-to-day life. But if you're regularly living out perfectly believable situations all night long ... what is your brain to do? 

You might wake up feeling confused, or dread heading to a workday that you already sat through in your dreams. You could forget what stories you've already relayed to your best friend, or whether or not you actually sent that embarrassing text to someone in particular last night. Worst of all, new studies indicate that super-realistic dreams can actually encode as false memories, distorting your reality and making it hard to process real-life, traumatic events. 

Vivid dreams could be confused with reality

Beyond leaving you disoriented, dreams can leave you genuinely deceived, according to Bustle. Because your brain can rewrite or distort memories based on outside information and influences, a vivid dream could prompt false recollections. 

Scientific evidence has also suggested that dreaming could be the result of your brain encoding and making sense of daytime memories as you sleep. If you're prone to hyperrealistic dreams, your brain could interpret and store these adventures as real-life experiences. 

This can especially be true if you're living with unresolved or complex trauma. A study published in 2017 found that individuals with PTSD, past trauma, or depression are at higher risk for developing false memories after being exposed to information — true or untrue — in-line with their current knowledge and understanding. As your brain attempts to protect you from hard past experiences, it may be more willing to quickly accept alternate realities or resolutions, even if they come in the form of a fictional dream.

Dreams can also help you work through problems

If you're an avid dreamer, it's not all bad news. Although science has yet to find a concrete answer about why we dream and what the dreams mean, some studies have suggested that these night adventures do provide some benefits. In a case study reported on by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, students were challenged to complete a maze. Then, one group of students took a break from the maze by watching videos, while others took a nap.

Unsurprisingly, the nappers generally did better on their second attempts at the challenge ... so get your sleep in. Beyond that, however, the nap-takers who thought about the maze as they fell asleep (or even went as far as to dream about the maze) performed best of all. Evidently, your subconscious can still work through problems and prompt creativity, even as you're getting your beauty rest. 

The bottom line? Dreams can be confusing ... and they're worth thinking through. If you're struggling to make sense of a difficult time, discussing your dreams with a therapist or keeping a dream journal might be a good place to start decoding truths from snoozes.