Under the Hood

What Influences Our Dreams? 5 Factors You May Be Surprised To Learn

If case of an amazing dream, some of us may spend the next few nights trying to retrace our steps to make the fantasy happen again. On the flip side, a bad dream can result in disrupted sleep and leave us feeling bitter or anxious the next morning. As interesting as they are, studying dreams has proven to be difficult, making it hard to draw conclusions or even test out theories. 

So unless you happen to be an expert in lucid dreaming, here are some of the possible factors that may be influencing your nightly visions:

1. Magnetic Field

The magnetic field of the earth might be an invisible influencer of your dreams. According to some studies, a low geomagnetic activity can increase the production of melatonin in your body. A psychologist named Darren Lipnicki kept a dream journal and simultaneously recorded the geomagnetic activity in Perth, Australia. At the end of the study, he seemed to find a correlation as the most bizarre dreams occurred on nights with the least geomagnetic activity.  

2. Creativity 

Did you recently experience a dream that was highly sexual in nature? Or even a tame fantasy with a celebrity crush? Well, it could be a sign you have been putting your creativity to use more than usual lately.

Dr. Ian Wallace, a psychologist and dream expert from the United Kingdom, explained sexual dreams may be influenced more by your creative stimulation than your sex life.

"Many of my clients in their 60s and 70s report having these. Surprisingly, they don't actually represent anything about their sex life, but are connected to increased levels of creativity," he said.

3. Sleeping Position

To find out if there is a pattern to your dreams, you may want to consider your sleeping position. Researchers from Hong Shue Yan University in Hong Kong studied sleeping positions of 670 adults and found those who slept on their front had experienced more intense and vivid dreams.

"Different sleep positions may create pressure to different parts of the body, and body feelings may be the sources of dream elements," said lead author Calvin Kai-Ching Yu.

Sleeping on one's side was linked to more positive dreams while sleeping in an uncomfortable, face-up position seemed to trigger nightmares for some. 

4. Diet

While there is no scientific proof that a midnight ice cream sundae is directly responsible for giving you nightmares about anthropomorphic fruits, could your diet be an indirect factor? As we know, food can play a significant role in affecting our metabolism and overall mood, so it does seem plausible what we eat (and when we eat) can be linked to what we dream. 

One Canadian study of 400 students found that 20 percent of the participants perceived a connection between their dreams and the food they ate. The researchers concluded further investigation should look deeper into this potential link since existing studies are scarce.

5. Media

This may be surprisingly relevant if you grew up in the 1950s, exposed to black and white shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “I Love Lucy.” According to a British study from 2008, the style of the media you consumed (particularly during your childhood) can even influence the colors of your dreams. Older participants of the study who had access to black and white media before the advent of color television reported they "experienced more greyscale dreams" compared to younger people with no such exposure.