"A lot of people aren't conscious of how many bad dreams they have because in order for a dream to encode into your memory, you need to actually wake up while it's happening," said Dr. Nadorff.When I told him about my own anxiety and persistent poor sleep, he said it wouldn't surprise at all him if anxious people like me have the same percentage of bad dreams as people without the disorder. Anxiety doesn't directly increase the frequency of our distressing dreams, he assured, but it does heighten their severity.I embarked on my own somewhat (very) unscientific survey and spoke to several other anxiety sufferers about their sleep, and was relieved to discover their experiences were nearly identical to my own."They're usually either deeply disturbing, or very surreal but emotionally neutral. The disturbing dreams rarely bother me after I wake up. I think I'm used to them," Motherboard writer Rachel Pick told me. "When I was a student, they'd be about school. Sometimes they're about my relationship, but that's rare. So the dreams are about whatever is currently making me feel most insecure in my waking life. They're pretty standard in plot—I fucked something up and people are pissed at me."
I can't tell you what a good dream feels like, because I've never had one.
More seriously, chronic undersleep can also result in cognitive disorders like working memory problems and the inability to multitask, said Dr. Djonlagic. She often finds that people who aren't getting enough regular sleep complain about being more forgetful, mentally fatigued, and have difficulty with visual discrimination exercises.One recent NIH-funded study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center even suggests that sleep deficiency might be a corollary of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. The study's authors observed that sleep allowed cerebrospinal fluid (the liquid that comes out during a spinal tap) to rapidly flow through the brains of sleeping mice. When the mice were awake, however, spinal fluid barely flowed at all.
"Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state."