Supposedly, people mainly dream during REM sleep, and dreams last up to 20 minutes (see for example the first paragraphs of the Wikipedia article on Dreams).

My subjective experience differs:

  • No matter at what time I awake, I always awake from a dream.

    And since I often awake not on my own (during phases of light sleep) but because I'm disturbed by outside noises (the crying baby of our neighbors, car doors slamming), and often feel groggy and disoriented upon awakening, I probably often awake from deep phases of non-REM sleep. Still, I always awake from a dream.

  • When I wake up I often remember an unbroken storyline from the last thoughts before I fell asleep until the moment of awakening.

    So obviously my dreams must have continued for hours – either in an unbroken stream or by taking up after a break where the story was "paused" before it.

Are there recent theories or research findings that explain this subjective experience?


1 Answer 1


I don't think what you're describing is that unusual. I read about dreams and dreaming in Jaak Panksepp's "Affective Neuroscience" some years ago, and here is what I remember:

First, it is not entirely accurate to say that dreams happen only during REM sleep. What is unique to REM dreams is visual imagery. NREM sleep, also called slow wave sleep, also contains dreams, but they are just a series of thoughts - not very different from when you think about things while awake.

Second, even if you are describing visual dreams: REM sleep is more shallow than slow wave sleep, i.e. outside noises will wake you up more easily than during the other sleep stages.

Third, it's very standard to dream about things that are currently going on in your life.

Fourth, dreams are extremely fragile, they evaporate from memory very quickly unless you actively do something mental with them, and it is easy confabulate some new details into them while trying to keep them from slipping away. It could be that you are reconstructing the content or duration of your dreams a little bit while you are trying to compare them to your thoughts before sleep.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Let me elaborate: When you are awake, your thoughts form an unbroken sequence. You are unable to remember or recreate the whole sequence of thought from getting up to going to bed, nevertheless you know of this unbroken sequence, because you experience it and at each moment you are aware of this sequential aspect of your thoughts: you know the last few thoughts before the current one and could backtrack. Always. There is never a break without any thought. I experience my dreams in the same way. While I dream, I am consciously aware that I dream and observing my dreams. [contd.] $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 15, 2013 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ [contd.] I usually forget them as they pass, but I observe their sequentiality. I see how the "story" begins as I "go under" and continues until I wake up. I experience how one "event" evolves from the preceding. I rarely remember anything from my dreams for longer than a few seconds after waking up, but I remember the observation of continuity. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Sep 15, 2013 at 19:03

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