How Long Do Dreams Last: Length, Different Types, Influences

illustration of length of a dream

How Long Do Dreams Last?

Dreams can last anywhere from a few seconds to about 20-30 minutes.

How Long do Nightmares Last?

On average, nightmares, which are vivid dreams that may be threatening, upsetting, bizarre, or otherwise bothersome, last for approximately 30 minutes, occurring most frequently during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. This duration can increase as the night progresses, with nightmares becoming more common in the second half of the night when more time is spent in REM sleep​.

Night terrors, which are more severe than nightmares, can last up to 45 minutes, leaving a person feeling shaken and exhausted.

The effects of a nightmare can last much longer than the actual dream itself, with fear, anxiety, and stress lingering throughout the day and affecting a person’s mental and physical well-being.

How Long do Lucid Dreams Last?

On average, lucid dreams typically last between 10 to 30 minutes. This duration is influenced by the period of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep when the dream occurs. If you lucid dream during the final stages of your sleep cycle, your dream could potentially stretch up to 30 minutes. This is because REM sleep, the stage in which we dream, increases in duration throughout the night, with each cycle lasting around 90 minutes. Therefore, if you enter a lucid dream state during the final sleep cycle, the dream could be longer, potentially up to half an hour​1​.

What is The Average Length of a Dream?

Dream duration can vary considerably, but on average, you might find yourself spending about 2 hours per night in the realm of dreams according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, these dream-filled hours are not one continuous stretch. Instead, they’re spread out across your sleep cycle, with dreams occurring during both REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stages, although the most vivid dreams tend to happen during REM sleep​1​.

How Long Do We Dream for Each Night?

On average, we spend about two hours each night dreaming, with REM dreams typically being longer and more story-like than NREM dreams. This means that every night, our brains create a vivid world that we experience while we sleep. Dream reports tend to be more detailed later in the night, which suggests that we have more dreams during the later stages of sleep. Additionally, some people report having dreams divided into various episodes, which may contribute to the feeling that dreams last longer than they really do

What Affects Dream Length?

Research has shown that the amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep you experience can correlate with the length of your dreams. REM sleep is the stage of sleep where your body is the most relaxed and your brain is the most active. During this stage, your brain is processing and storing information, which can result in vivid and lengthy dreams.

In addition to the amount of REM sleep, other factors can affect the length of your dreams. These factors include your age, genetics, and even your mood. For example, individuals who experience high levels of stress or anxiety may have more frequent and intense dreams, which can result in longer dream periods. Furthermore, studies have shown that medications, alcohol consumption, and even certain foods can also influence the length of your dreams.

Dream Time VS Real Time

Have you ever had a dream that felt like it lasted for hours, but when you woke up, only a few minutes had passed? Or maybe you’ve had a quick, fleeting dream that felt like it happened in an instant, but in reality, it lasted for a significant amount of time. This phenomenon is known as time distortion in dreams.

Dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which typically lasts for around 90 minutes. During this time, the brain is highly active, and the body is paralyzed to prevent physical movements that could be dangerous. Studies have shown that the perception of time in dreams is vastly different from that of real life. In fact, some experts believe that dreams can compress or expand time by up to ten times its normal rate.

The exact reason for time distortion in dreams is still unknown, but it’s thought to be related to the brain’s ability to process information differently during sleep. Some theories suggest that the brain may be able to process information more quickly during dreams, causing time to appear to move faster.

Others believe that time distortion in dreams is related to the brain’s ability to create vivid and detailed scenarios that feel like they’ve taken longer to occur than they actually have. Regardless of the exact cause, the fact remains that time in dreams is subjective and can vary greatly from person to person.

How Long Is 1 Hour in a Dream

A lot of websites say that each hour in the real world equates to two years and four months in the dream state,but it is not supported by current scientific research and understanding.

The perception of time in dreams is a complex issue. The length of dream time compared to real time is not always one-to-one. Some research suggests that dream time seems to be equivalent to real time, but exceptions do exist.

For instance, bizarre dreams might appear to last longer than they really do, and lucid dreamers sometimes take longer to complete tasks in dreams compared to real life.

How Can You Have Longer Dreams?

If you’re aiming to have longer dreams, consider the following steps:

  1. Sleep Well: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Adequate sleep promotes longer REM sleep phases, where vivid dreaming occurs.
  2. Consistent Sleep Schedule: Try to sleep and wake at the same times daily. Regularity aids in maintaining extended REM sleep.
  3. Mind Your Diet: Some foods, like cheese and spicy items, might stimulate more vivid dreams. However, avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
  4. Wake Back to Bed (WBTB): Wake up after 5-6 hours of sleep, stay awake briefly, then go back to sleep. This can enhance your chances of dreaming.
  5. Lucid Dreaming: Practice techniques to achieve lucid dreaming, a state where you’re aware you’re dreaming and can control the narrative.
  6. Dream Journal: Keeping a record of your dreams can improve recall, giving the impression of longer dreams.

Why Do Dreams Fade So Quickly?

Dreams can be beautiful, bizarre, and utterly captivating, but they often seem to slip away just as quickly as they appear. But why do dreams fade so quickly? The answer lies in the intricate mechanisms of our brain.

The rapid fading of dreams is largely attributed to the neurochemical conditions that occur during REM sleep, the phase of sleep characterized by rapid eye movements and dreaming​​. One compelling explanation focuses on the absence of the hormone norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex during REM sleep. The cerebral cortex is a critical brain region that plays a key role in memory, thought, language, and consciousness. According to a study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the presence of norepinephrine enhances memory in humans, but its role in learning and recall remains a topic of ongoing debate​1​.

However, the lack of norepinephrine doesn’t entirely explain why we forget dreams so quickly. A more comprehensive understanding involves a continuum of mental functioning, in which dreaming and mind wandering lie on one end, and concentrated, focused thought lies on the other. This type of less consciously directed thinking, like dreaming, isn’t easy to remember. Can you recall where your mind wandered while you were brushing your teeth this morning? This is a similar kind of cognitive process at work when you try to recall dreams​.

The general tendency of our brains is to forget nonessentials. We usually recall things that we think about often or that have emotional significance. Certain dreams tend to remain in our memories because they capture our attention and increase activity in our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a brain region that facilitates memory. So, the more impressive or emotionally charged your dream, the more likely you are to remember it​​.

Recent research also suggests that the REM sleep stage, when most dreaming occurs, includes a period of “active forgetting.” This forgetting process helps avoid information overload. Interestingly, the neurons responsible for this active forgetting are also the neurons that control appetite. Specifically, these neurons produce melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH), a molecule that helps regulate both sleep and appetite. These MCH-producing neurons send inhibitory messages to the hippocampus, which is key for learning and memory, during REM sleep​​.

A study conducted on mice showed that “switching off” these MCH-producing neurons during REM sleep improved the rodents’ memory. This research suggests that the firing of this particular group of neurons during REM sleep controls whether the brain remembers new information after a good night’s sleep. Therefore, it appears that MCH neurons help the brain actively forget new, possibly unimportant, information, which includes the content of our dreams. This might explain why dreams are often quickly forgotten​​.

So, next time you wake up with a dream fading away, remember that it’s not just you. It’s a complex interplay of hormones, brain regions, and specific neurons doing their job to help you filter through the vast amount of information your brain processes every day.