Did you know that we dream about six years in our entire life? Each night, we have several dreams, but we remember only 5% of them. Scientists were always fascinated with dreams, and although they were researched for the past 100 years or more, there is still much mystery surrounding them. For example, researchers still don’t know why do we dream. In this article, apart from learning about the basics of dreams, you will also find more about dreaming benefits, their types and common interpretations.
What Are Dreams?
When you sleep, dreams seem like mini-movies in your mind. These short films could either follow a linear story or be completely abstract; dreams can be exciting, scary, depressing or just boring. They could make perfect sense or be completely irrational.
People dream on a daily basis, several times per night. An interesting fact is that even blind people dream, but experience other senses, similar to their waking lives. According to researchers, an average person dreams four times a night, and each dream lasts from a few to 20 minutes. We can dream in any sleep stage, but the most vivid and memorable dreams occur in REM sleep, which is also known as the dream sleep phase. In REM sleep, the brain is particularly active, and the brain waves mimic the alpha waves we experience when we are awake. Scientists know that animals experience REM sleep, but they are not sure if animals can dream.
In order to track brain waves during sleep, researchers use a polysomnogram. There is no way to see one’s dreams in a scientifically measurable way. We know people dream because we talk about it. As a dog owner, you may be claiming that your dog is running or chasing someone in their sleep. However, since our pets cannot confirm it, we cannot know for sure.
Why Do We Dream?
As mentioned in the beginning, scientists still haven’t found out why we dream. You can hear a lot of theories on this topic, from dreams being complete nonsense to revealing profound truths about your personality, communicating with the dead or even predicting the future.
Scientists who believe dreams are nonsense, justify their theory by adhering to the activation-synthesis hypothesis, which claims dreams are only the results of electrical impulses in our brains. As you probably know, the psychologist Sigmund Freud, firmly believed that dreams unlock the unconscious parts of our personality and manifest repressed conflicts from our lives.
Another interesting theory is threat simulation theory, claiming that dreams serve as a biological defense and that through them we prepare ourselves to face our fears and life-threatening events in a safe way.
Why do we have so much trouble remembering our dreams? Scientists still don’t have the answer to this question. Most researchers believe that some areas of our brain go to sleep during REM stage and that we remember best the dreams that occurred right before we woke up because our mind is becoming active, or starting to “switch back on”.
Health Benefits of Dreaming
It doesn’t matter whether your dreams are meaningful or not – you can still benefit from them. Dreams are significant for staying healthy. Let’s see why and how.
Besides dreaming, REM sleep is also a phase when we process information and learnings from that day and begin to store them into long-term memory. We spend only around one-quarter of our total sleep time in REM. REM sleep is more concentrated in the latter half of the night. People who get less than seven hours of sleep per night don’t get enough REM sleep. Poor REM sleep will affect your cognitive abilities and performance, emotional stability and ability to maintain focus.
A study also shows there is a connection between dreams and learning. Participants of the study were taking a French language course, and those who made better progress, we dreaming more than other subjects. Some of them report French was playing a more significant role in their dreams, and they often even communicated in French.
Another study tried to determine why we remember dreams better after REM sleep. The results showed that dreaming produces similar brain activity as recalling memories during the day in the state of wakefulness. The same scientists also found out that the intense, and vivid dreams are associated with the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions and emotional memories, while the hippocampus is responsible for transferring short-term memories to long-term memory storage.
Can We Lose Our Ability to Dream?
Unfortunately, we could. A very rare neurological condition known as Charcot-Wilbrand Syndrome can cause you to lose your ability to dream. This condition causes damage to the visual cortex – part of the brain responsible for developing visual memories, and the area where dreams occur.
Emotional Benefits of Dreaming
REM sleep and dreaming is also beneficial for our emotional health. One study conducted in the 1960s shows that people who lack REM sleep or experience disturbed REM sleep have increased the risk of insomnia and anxiety. According to the research, REM aids the mind to address emotional issues while you catch those precious ZZZs. In 2016, another study confirmed the results of the previously mentioned research. The results of their study suggest that people who dream less experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, tension, lack of focus and even weight gain. Less dreaming also makes us more emotionally reactive.
Some researchers believe that dreaming helps our brain to solve problems, form new creative connections, and process emotions and experiences from the previous day. When you think about it, sleep really is a perfect time for our brain to process all the information we encountered during the day without any disruption, and determine which will be stored in long-term memory and what to get rid of.
Dreams and Creativity
Many artists and inventors attribute their best creative works to dreams. For example, the inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe, figured out how to make the needle work in his dreams, while Mary Shelley got the idea for her famous novel Frankenstein. We briefly mentioned that REM sleep and dreaming helps our brain to solve problems, especially if they are abstract. In dreams, our mind tosses random images and ideas in a way we probably wouldn’t think of during the day and when awake. Dreaming may help us to come up with a creative solution for our problem. The entire process is known as dream incubation. A Harvard researcher confirmed that dream incubation is a real thing. She encouraged subjects of the study to focus on a challenging problem as they were falling asleep. Half of them had a dream that was relevant to their issue, and one third claimed the dream helped them to come up with a solution when they woke up.
Generally speaking, our creativity and problem-solving skills improve when we get more REM sleep, which further confirms the benefits of dreaming for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
What Do Dreams Mean?
Some dreams are abstract or meaningless, while others follow a linear story. By talking to people who experienced specific types of dreams, psychologists have come up with different dreams types, as well as some theories on their meaning.
Note: Every person is unique and so are there dreams! There is no such thing as one interpretation of a dream. All dreams have their own unique meaning and cause. Still, it’s fun to interpret them. If you wondered what your dreams mean, here are some of the most common interpretations.
What Do Naked Dreams Mean?
It means that we are trying to hide something from others or that we are not prepared for something. It can also imply we are hiding something and afraid of being found out. How we and the other people in the dream feel about our nakedness can also help with the interpretation. If other people don’t care, there is nothing to worry about. If they are shocked, it may be a sign that our worries are justified, and if you don’t care about being naked, it may express self-confidence.
What Do Falling Dreams Mean?
Falling dreams are also related to anxiety. These can signify fear or insecurity over something that we cannot control.
What Do Running Dreams Mean?
Running dreams are similar to falling dreams. If you can’t stop running no matter how hard you try, it indicates you feel powerlessness and don’t have enough confidence to face some problems in your life.
These dreams may also occur during sleep paralysis, a transitional stage between sleep and waking. It is a type of REM parasomnia or abnormal behavior during sleep. When you experience sleep paralysis, some parts of your brain are woken up, but the body is not. Basically, you are conscious of your inability to move.
What Do Chase Dreams Mean?
As the previously mentioned dreams, these also may result from anxiety. It may indicate you are avoiding a problem, and person chasing you is the issue you are avoiding. If you are the one doing the chasing, it could signify a goal you are trying to accomplish. If you are a chaser, the dream is not caused by anxiety, but rather by falling behind on your expectations.
What Do Test Dreams Mean?
If you are dreaming about taking an exam, you might feel unprepared for something, such as a test in real life, a presentation at work or even meeting your partner’s parents. It can also indicate you feel over-scrutinized about something in real life.
What Do Teeth Dreams Mean?
Many people dream about feeling a weird sensation in their mouth, and when taking a closer look or try to spit to find relief, they realize they have lost some or all of their teeth. Dream experts say that teeth represent power and communication skills, so without them, we feel powerless and unable to communicate.
What Do Omen Dreams Mean?
Many people believe omen dreams can predict the future. However, if that really happens, it’s just a coincidence or you were taking efforts to realize it. Omen dreams may also indicate you are visualizing something you have been working on for a long time.
What Do Complex Dreams Mean?
Some dreams can follow a linear story and have a completely epic storyline. It’s very hard to interpret these dreams because every person is unique. However, they indicate you are very creative.
What Do Recurring Dreams Mean?
Repeating dreams are often nightmares. They may relate to some unresolved matter from your life, and solving the problem in real life should make the bad dream go away.
What Do Nightmares Mean?
Children commonly experience nightmares, but they can also occur in adulthood. These are often connected with anxiety and stress. If they are regular, there is probably something in your life that need to address, and that is causing you a great deal of stress and anxiety. Nightmares can also be a symptom of PTSD or side-effects of some medications.
It is important to know that nightmares are not the same as night terrors. Night terrors don’t take place in REM sleep like all dreams, but in deep sleep in the earlier half of the night. When experiencing a night terror, the person looks awake and may be screaming or moving violently. Their eyes may be open. The person typically doesn’t remember the dream after waking up. Night terrors are more common in children, and most kids simply outgrow them.
What Do Flying Dreams Mean?
Flying dreams are a common lucid dream. Outside of lucid dreaming, flying may indicate you are currently feeling very happy and safe. If your flight is not going well, it may signify there is an obstacle in your life that prevents you from accomplishing your goals.
How Do You Lucid Dream?
Lucid dreams occur whenever the sleeper realizes he or she is dreaming. Many people wake up from lucid dreams, but there are also those who like to explore them. Lucid dreaming is very tough to learn, and less than 100 000 people in the US can do it. A technique that may help with lucid dreaming is the reflection technique – meaning you should constantly check during the day if you are awake or asleep.
The MILD technique (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) is the most successful. Before going to sleep, you should tell yourself to remember your dream and to focus on your recent dream. As you explore the dreamscape and practice taking actions during that dream can help you to experience lucid dreams more often.
What Are Daydreams?
As the name may indicate, daydreams occur while we are awake, but our imagination kind of take over. An average person spends 2 hours of day daydreaming.
Dream Recall Tips
Are you trying to remember your dream? This is good because it can help you become more creative. If you want to recall your last dream, try using the following tips.
- Train yourself to remember – Before going to bed, remind yourself to remember your dream. Your intention will ensure your brain focuses on that before you slip into blissful slumber.
- Keep a dream diary – As soon as you wake up, try to remember your dreams, and write all the details in a notebook or on your phone. If you remember only some details, write them down. Reviewing your diary may help you observe your dream patterns over time.
- Turn off your alarm – By allowing yourself to wake up naturally in the morning, your brain has nothing to focus on but your dream. It will be much easier to remember it.
- Make sure you get enough sleep – Dreams and more REM sleep are often experienced in the second half of the night. So, if you want to recall your dreams, you need quality REM sleep, and for that, you need to snooze for at least seven hours.
A wannabe journalist who somehow ended up as an art historian. She is a gamer, a coffee addict and a sleep aficionado. When she is not researching about sleep and finding out new ways to fight off the insomnia beast, she’s spending time with her friends, gaming or visiting local museums.