Laughing in a dream is a fairly common occurrence. Babies smile charmingly and giggle in a dream, less often, but adults also laugh very sweetly in a dream. Of course, unwitting witnesses of such cases immediately think of a funny dream that the sleeper is having at the moment. However, doctors say that regular laughter in a dream is not always a harmless reflection of dreams, this phenomenon can be a symptom of some serious illnesses. MedAboutMe found out in which situations one should not be touched, but explain to a person the need for a medical examination.
Hypnohelia: from mental characteristics to illness
For the first time, laughter in a dream (hypnohelia) was described by the father of the theory of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. And he did this based on the results of correspondence with his Hungarian colleague Sandor Ferenczi. He in his letter described in detail an elderly gentleman who, being asleep, woke his wife with his sincere laughter. When a woman somehow woke him up, he described the awkward situation he had dreamed of, which caused him a fit of fun.
People who laughed in their sleep and were able to remember the dream that made them laugh unanimously admitted that they did not experience such strong emotions in the waking state at all — they did not want to laugh at the dream at all. Most often, they characterized what they saw in a dream not as a “funny”, but as a “strange” event.
Later, psychiatrists of various directions tried to connect laughter in a dream with a variety of manifestations of human fears and instincts: from the fear of death to cravings for incest.
However, after the invention of polysomnograph devices and the sleep study method of the same name, it turned out that laughter in a dream is very close to sleepwalking. This was supported by separate studies in which the vast majority of patients who laughed in their sleep were diagnosed with sleepwalking earlier in their lives.
And later, neurologists became interested in laughing sleeping gentlemen and ladies, and it turned out that manifestations of such fun can be a sign of such serious pathologies of the central nervous system as a brain tumor, epilepsy, etc. Thus, epileptic convulsions in the form of unprovoked fits of laughter in a dream were described in end of the 19th century.
What about talking?
Hypnohelia is considered by many doctors to be a form of somniloquia, the tendency to talk without waking up. Somniloquia, like hypnohelia, is now considered a sleep disorder.
According to experts, almost half of adolescents during puberty tend to talk and laugh in their sleep at least once every six months. As a student, 73% of college students experience hypnohelia attacks at least once a year. But as they grow older, this condition is becoming less and less common: only 4% of adults are prone to talking and laughing in their sleep.
Most often, people laugh in the second half of the night and often wake up from their own laughter.
The laughter phase is the stage of rapid eye movements.
In a study of 10 sleep laughing patients, 9 out of 10 laughs were heard during REM (or REM, or REM) sleep. It is at this stage of sleep that a person usually sees his most vivid dreams. At the same time, his eyeballs make quick, sharp movements, which gave the name to this phase.
In each REM/NREM sleep cycle, the REM phase accounts for approximately 25% of the total time and lasts from 10 to 20 minutes. The more tense in terms of stress the day was, the longer the phase of REM sleep: the muscles are as relaxed as possible (up to the state of atony — a significant decrease in muscle tone), but the brain is alert and active.
Thus, hypnohelia is considered by some doctors to be one of the REM sleep disorders. This is the name of a whole group of various deviations from the norm. In particular, patients with this pathology usually do not fall into a state of atony, which leads to uncontrolled physical activity during sleep: sudden unpredictable movements of the limbs, etc. This is at least dangerous for a partner sleeping peacefully nearby.
REM sleep stage disorder is quite rare — in less than 1% of the population, and older men over 50–60 years old are more often on this list. Another group at increased risk of developing REM sleep disorders is patients with various neurological pathologies: Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy, etc. They develop problems with the REM phase 50% more often than people with healthy sleep.
Finally, another cause of failure of the REM phase is excessive alcohol consumption, acute long-term sleep deprivation, as well as the use of certain medications.
As mentioned above, doctors suspect a connection between certain types of epilepsy and hypnohelia. We are talking about gelastic seizures — attacks of uncontrollable giggling or laughter, which can be observed both during wakefulness and during sleep. The duration of such attacks usually does not exceed 10–20 seconds.
They may be caused by a hypothalamic hamartoma, a rare benign tumor in the intermediate part of the brain. This is a congenital disease that usually first manifests itself at the age of 10 months.
Should I be worried?
The main question is: how to distinguish a harmless giggle about a dream from a symptom of a dangerous disease?
Doctors advise relatives of people laughing in a dream to carefully observe them. So, the fact that gelastic seizures happen quite often, regardless of sleep, may be a cause for concern and a visit to the doctor. They may also be accompanied by various unusual actions — convulsive swallowing or slapping one’s lips. At the same time, the patient himself can tell that before an uncontrollable attack of laughter, he feels “butterflies in the stomach”, a headache or a feeling of tickling in the chest area.
If laughter in a dream is rarely observed and no special symptoms are observed during the wakefulness period, then we are talking about a harmless condition, an individual feature of a person — sweet and funny, unless, of course, this is a partner sleeping nearby.