You hate how your mother-in-law meddles in your marriage, so it’s no shocker when you tell her off in your dream—dreams are, after all, your brain’s way of working through unresolved conflicts. But what can explain that recent string of random nightmares or incredibly vivid visions? “We know a bit about things that affect dream recall and make for more nightmares,” says Deirdre Barrett, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, and author of The Committee of Sleep. So here, 10 surprising things that can influence what pops up in your dreams or how likely you are to remember them.
Do sweet smells lead to sweet dreams? One small study found that sniffing flowers at a particular point in the sleep cycle led to more positive dreams, while a sulphur odor was linked to negative ones. Though researchers say you can’t replicate those results in your bedroom (by the time you’re dreaming, that lilac blossom scent you spritzed pre-bedtime can’t stimulate you), there’s a possibility that a sudden aroma—bacon wafting up from the kitchen, for example—could infiltrate your dream. “Dreams are sleep protective,” says J. Catesby Ware, PhD, Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk, VA. “So instead of waking up, you incorporate those stimuli into your dream.”
You wake up after dreaming you’re stuck in a burning building—and realize that the fire alarm you heard was actually your alarm clock. What’s with that? There’s a narrow window for sounds to get through to your brain during sleep, says Dr. Barrett: “They need to be low enough that they don’t wake you but high enough that you perceive them.” So let a recording of ocean waves play softly throughout the night. You might recall a dream about a beach vacation or wake up feeling relaxed.
It’s simple: Anything that could cause indigestion—cheese, spicy foods, a big meal—makes you stir more, meaning you have a better shot of remembering that nightmare. “The rule of thumb is that you need to wake up within five minutes of having a dream to recall it,” says Dr. Ware. For rest that’s more peaceful all around, eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime, and choose nighttime snacks wisely (read: no Haagen-Dazs if you’re lactose intolerant). Since caffeine can have the same disruptive effect, it’s best to cut off your coffee intake post-2 p.m. too.
4.Sleeping on Your Stomach
Are you prone to racy dreams? Well, sleeping in the prone position (that is, on your stomach) might have something to do with it. A new study published in the JournalDreaming found that lying on your belly in bed was linked to blush-worthy dream themes, like having sex with a celebrity or being tied up. Researchers hypothesize that it might have to do with your breathing patterns in this position. To stop the sexy thoughts—or keep ’em coming—adjust your sleep posture accordingly.