Though the average person spends 6 years during a lifetime dreaming, only about 5% of these dreams are actually remembered. Though dreams are still somewhat shrouded in mystery, they do have benefit and some interpretations have been created for the common types of dreams. Some of this will be explained below.
Dreams are basically mini movies created by your mind while you sleep, so they may be linear in nature or abstract. They can come in various shapes and forms with numerous emotions (boring, exciting, depressing, calming). Some will make perfect sense while others will be very odd. We all dream on a nightly basis, on average four times a night for about 20 minutes at a time.
The most vivid and memorable dreams occur during REM sleep, though they can happen at any stage. During REM, the brain is highly active when compared to other stages. During different stages your brain goes through theta, delta, and alpha waves that mimic waking life. Even animals experience REM sleep, but there is no scientific way to measure this.
Why We Dream
There are many theories about why we dream, but nothing concrete. Some feel dreams have no meaning, but others see them as a way to reveal deep truths about life and the universe. Those who believe they are nonsense see them as nothing more than electrical brain impulses. Freud believed dreams were repressed memories coming out. One theory, the threat simulation theory, believes dreams are a biological defense that prepares us for life events and dealing with them safely.
There are also no definitive answers about why we struggle to remember dreams. Some feel it is because part of the brain is asleep and the dreams right before we wake are remembered because our brains are waking up as well.
Benefits of Dreaming
The decision on whether dreaming is meaningful has not yet been answered, but we do know it is a part of overall wellbeing.
Memory and Learning
REM is the stage of sleep in which we process daily learning and commit it to memory, even though this only makes up about a fourth of our overall sleep time, usually later in the night or sleep cycle. This is also why an average of 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night are needed. If this is avoided, REM sleep is missed and you may struggle with focus, mental stability, and cognitive performance.
Research has also supported this connection of learning and dreams over several studies. One study found French students who dreamed more did better in the class, while another found that dreams were better recalled immediately after REM sleep. Damage to the parts of the brain that aid in dreaming, can cause learning and memory issues.
REM sleep is further associated with emotional health. Disturbed REM sleep leads to anxiety and insomnia as shown in research. In one study, people were woken up during REM, while others were allowed to sleep through the night. Those forced awake had higher instances of depression, anxiety, weight gain, hallucinations, and a lack of focus and coordination. Lack of or disturbed REM sleep negatively affects the emotions.
This can mean that dreams are a way of problem solving for our minds. During sleep, the brain works uninterrupted and without distraction. This can improve our health over time.
Many creative people find their best creativity comes from dreams. A great deal of research backs this up as REM sleep has been found to allow our brains to solve abstract or complex problems. This is because while we dream, the mind throws random images together that we may consider illogical when awake. The abstract associations, when remembered, help us creatively solve problems.
Dream incubation is a process that people use to encourage their minds to dream about or focus on a specific topic or issue. This was tested and found that focusing dreams was both possible and helpful for many.
Some dreams are mundane and reflect daily life, but others feel more significant. We all have some common dreams or at least dream elements, that hold specific meaning. Psychologists have come up with theories on what these mean, but everyone is unique so this is simply a guide.
Naked dreams can have you waking up concerned, but they tend to mean that the dreamer has something to hide or that they are hiding. They may fear being exposed or simply be unprepared for what is coming up in life. This can be taken further when exploring how the people in the dream feel about the nakedness. If no one is worried, then the dreamer probably is not either, however, if they are offended or surprised then the anxiety may be based in reality. If the actual dreamer is unfazed by the nakedness, it can be a sign of self-confidence.
Dreams of falling can suddenly wake a person due to a hypnic jerk. These are completely normal on occasion, but if happening often, the person may be overly stressed, ill, or need to limit caffeine and other drugs affecting sleep. As for the meaning, falling is representative of anxiety and a situation in which the person has no control.
Running dreams are often about not being able to run no matter how much you may want to in the dream. This, like falling, suggests a lack of confidence and powerlessness. These may also happen with sleep paralysis or REM parasomnia, somewhere between sleep and waking. This is the body being sleep, but the brain awake and feeling like there is no ability to move.
Also based in anxiety, chase dreams are suggestive of a dreamer avoiding an issue or problem. Whatever is chasing the dreamer, represents the problem. If the dreamer is chasing something, it can be working hard toward a goal that seems unattainable.
Being unprepared for a test in a dream is a representation of feeling unprepared for something that is happening or will soon happen. Additionally, these types of dreams could mean you are feeling overly scrutinized over something in life.
Teeth dreams usually manifest as having no teeth or teeth falling out unexpectedly. Since experts believe teeth are symbolic for power and communication on a personal level, these dreams mean a feeling of powerlessness and inability to communicate are present.
While some believe that dreams can be prophetic, it is more likely that a dream encourages someone to work toward a specific goal and attain it.
Complex dreams are a source of creativity, but have no specific meaning. These dreams are like watching a movie or reading a book where characters are developed in a complex storyline.
Recurring dreams and nightmares tend to relate to unresolved conflict in a person’s life. When the issue is solved, the dream often ends as well.
Nightmares usually stem from stress, conflict, and even anxiety in life, but they are a common form of parasomnia. While most prevalent in children, adults have nightmares as well. If they occur with regularity, there is something in life causing fear and anxiety that must be dealt with as soon as possible. Nightmares can also be caused by some drugs, medication side effects, and trauma disorders.
Night terrors are not nightmares and tend to occur earlier in the sleep cycle. The person is asleep, but may appear awake with open eyes, talking, screaming, and even violent behavior. Once awake, the person may not remember the night terror at all. These are much more common in childhood, but can continue on with disorders like autism.
Flying dreams can be fun and usually reflect a new view on life, security and happiness. If your flight finds trouble, you may be facing obstacles in life or a challenge you are not sure you can overcome. Lucid dreamers often focus on flying as part of the practice.
Lucid dreams are those in which the dreamer knows they are dreaming. Most people wake up in the midst of these dreams. Some people enjoy exploring this type of dreaming as parts of it have real world application. Some people feel lucid dreaming can improve confidence and even athletic ability. This is a challenging skill to learn and more so to master. It requires mind training each and every day.
The MILD technique, mnemonic induction of lucid dreams, is the most successful method use to enhance reflection techniques. Before falling asleep, tell yourself to remember what you dream about and take control of what is happening. Over time this practice can lead to consistent lucid dreaming.
People spend an average of 2 hours each day daydreaming. This is while you are awake and the imagination takes over.
Since research has found that those who recall their dreams are more creative, remembering these dreams can be helpful or just fun. Below are some tips to help you recall your dreams when you awake.
Before going to sleep, remind yourself of the desire to remember your dreams. If this is your intention right before falling asleep, it will be more likely to happen.
Another way to remember is to keep a notebook by your bed and as soon as you wake, write down the dream details you remember. Over time you will be able to recognize patterns. There are smart phone apps for this type of recording as well.
Using an alarm forces us awake and draws the mind’s focus. If you can wake up naturally instead, you can hold onto your dreams longer, making them easier to remember.
Plenty of Sleep
Since dreaming takes place most often in REM sleep, you need plenty of it. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed so REM sleep can increase. The more REM you experience, the more dreams you will have over time. You need an average of at least 7 hours of sleep per night on a regular schedule to be truly healthy in REM sleep.
Normal temperature regulation shuts down during REM sleep which can wake you up if you are too hot or cold. This interrupts REM sleep and can limit dreaming. Adjust your home temperature so that you are as warm or cool as needed to be comfortable all night.
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