Q. It seems like the last dream I have before waking is the most vivid and the longest of the night. Is there any reason for this?
A. Not only do we dream every night, we also dream several times per night. And yes, these dreams do vary in length. Typically we enter a dream cycle every 90 minutes over the course of a night’s sleep, and the dream periods increase in length as the night progresses. So, yes, it seems like those early morning dreams are the longest because, well, they are!
That covers the well-worn terrain of what science tells us about sleep cycles, but I’ve made other observations about the last dreams of the night as well.
My dreaming mind is a wonderful one-woman sleep laboratory, because I have unusually high dream recall; I remember three to seven dreams a night (and, on not-so-rare occasion, more). Over the decades of observing my dreams I have noticed that my dreams not only progress in length as the night wears on, but they also progress thematically.
My first dream of the night is usually, as science predicts, brief. Sometimes it contains just a few images and symbols, and very little by way of storyline. Dream by dream, those themes and symbols might repeat, coming up in different storylines, in different forms, and in different contexts.
For example, one night the first dream of the night was of a nurse in her uniform. The last dream I remembered was about me examining a wound on my foot. The night’s theme was clearly “healing.”
Recently, a full night’s dreaming started with people making television commercials, and several dream adventures later ended with me walking on “Market Street.” The theme of commerce (what am I “buying”? I asked myself on waking) was repeated in different contexts and unfolded over the course of the varied dreamscapes.
Also, sometimes the dreams have a certain narrative arc. For example, in a recent night’s dreams, I am leaving a hotel to go for a walk in the first dream, and in the last dream of the night I return to my house and go up the stairs to my bedroom.
I also seem to have more lucid dreams (dreams in which I know I’m dreaming) in the early morning hours. I suspect that is because our brain chemistry is beginning to shift from sleeping to waking consciousness, and this might create the ideal environment for hybrid states of dream consciousness such as lucidity.
I’ve also noticed that the last dream of the night can be super-charged with light – so much so that in those dreams I am often squinting and unable to fully open my eyes. I’ve always assumed this has something to do with light beginning to enter the room as the sun rises, but since it even happens on dark winter mornings, I wonder if it has more to do with the re-activation of the physical senses as our waking consciousness begins to come back on line. (If there are any scientists reading along, I’d love to hear your feedback on this theory!)
On a practical level, the last dream of the night is the easiest one for most people to remember – and so it is significant in that way, too.
In any case, when it comes to dreaming, “last” is far from being “least.”
And you? Do you notice trends or patterns in the way dreams unfold for you over the course of the night? Is the last dream different from the first?
If you’d like to learn more about your dreams, schedule an appointment for dreamwork, purchase a dream journal, or buy a dreamwork gift certificate, visit me at Third House Moon.
Corner View is a weekly appointment each Wednesday, where bloggers from all corners of the world share their view on a pre-arranged theme. This week’s theme is last but not least. Start here to visit more Corner View blogs.