According to dream expert Michael Breus, not a day goes by without someone talking to him about their dreams. “My patients, my children, the barista who makes me coffee in the morning, everyone wants to know what their dreams mean.” Well, quite a natural interest. Dreams are an amazing and mysterious phenomenon that cannot be comprehended in any way. But still, let’s try to lift the veil of secrecy.
1. Why do we dream?
Scientists have been struggling with this mystery for a long time. There are many hypotheses about the nature of dreams. Some experts believe that dreams have no specific purpose and are just a by-product of other processes that occur in the brain of a sleeping person. Others, on the other hand, assign them a special role. According to some theories, dreams are:
- archiving knowledge and impressions: moving images from short-term memory to long-term memory, the brain clears the space for the next day’s information;
- maintaining emotional balance, reprocessing complex, confusing, disturbing thoughts, emotions and experiences;
- a special state of consciousness that connects the past, present and future in order to rethink past and current events and prepare a person for new trials;
- a kind of brain training, preparation for possible threats, risks and challenges of real life;
- the brain’s response to biochemical changes and electrical impulses that occur during sleep.
It is most likely to argue that dreams serve several purposes at once.
2. What are dreams? Does everyone dream of them?
Sleep is easiest to describe as a set of images, impressions, events and sensations that our consciousness broadcasts. Some dreams are like movies: a clear storyline, intrigue, characters. Others are chaotic, full of emotion and sketchy visuals.
As a rule, a “session” of night dreams lasts two hours, and during this time we manage to view from three to six dreams. Most of them last 5-20 minutes.
“People often say they don’t have dreams,” says Michael Breus. – You may not remember them, but this does not mean that they were not. Everybody dreams. The fact is that many of us simply forget most of our dreams. As soon as we wake up, they disappear. “
3. Why do some people not remember their dreams?
Some can retell their dreams in full detail, while others have only vague memories, or even none at all. There are several reasons for this. Some researchers believe that dream recall depends on patterns formed by the brain. It is likely that the ability to remember dreams is due to the individual model of interpersonal relationships, that is, how we build connections with others.
Another factor is the change in hormonal levels during the night. During REM sleep, the REM sleep phase, cortisol levels rise, which blocks the connection between the brain regions responsible for memory consolidation.
The REM phase is followed by the most intense dreams. Adults spend approximately 25% of their total sleep in this mode, with the longest REM periods occurring late at night and early in the morning.
Waking up in a daze is a sign that the body cannot smoothly switch between sleep stages
In addition to the REM phase, the natural sleep cycle includes three more stages, and in each of them we can dream. However, during the REM phase, they will be more vibrant, quirky and meaningful.
Has it ever happened that after a sudden awakening, you could neither move nor speak? This strange phenomenon is directly related to dreams. During REM sleep, the body is held back by a temporary paralysis called REM atony. Thus, the sleeping organism is protected from damage, because atony deprives us of the ability to actively move. Let’s say you are flying over rocks or fleeing a masked villain. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could physically react to what you experienced in a dream? Most likely, they would have fallen from the bed to the floor and hurt themselves painfully.
Sometimes sleep paralysis does not immediately release. This is very scary, especially when it happens for the first time. Awakening in a daze is a sign that the body cannot smoothly switch between sleep stages. This can affect the effects of stress, constant sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders, including narcolepsy, caused by certain medications or drug and alcohol use.
4. Are there different types of dreams?
Of course: dreams reflect all our life experience. Events and emotions are intertwined in them in an incomprehensible way, and sometimes absolutely fantastic plots. Dreams are joyful and sad, scary and strange. When we dream of flying, we experience euphoria, when we are pursued – horror, when we fail on the exam – stress.
There are several types of dreams: recurring, “wet” and lucid dreams (nightmares are a special type of dreams that deserves a separate discussion).
Recurring dreams are distinguished by threatening and disturbing content. Experts believe that they indicate severe psychological stress in both adults and children.
Research on lucid dreaming not only sheds light on the mysterious mechanism of sleep, but also explains how the brain works
“Wet” dreams also called nocturnal emissions. The sleeping person has involuntary ejaculation, which is usually accompanied by erotic dreams. Most often, this phenomenon is observed in boys during puberty, when the body begins to vigorously produce testosterone, which indicates a healthy development.
Lucid dreams Is the most fascinating type of dream. The person is fully aware that he is sleeping, but can control what he dreams. It is believed that this phenomenon is associated with increased amplitude of brain waves and extraordinary activity of the frontal lobes. This area of the brain is responsible for conscious perception, sense of self, speech and memory. Research into lucid dreaming not only sheds light on the mysterious mechanism of sleep, but also explains many aspects of how the brain and consciousness work.
5. What dreams do we dream most often?
Humanity has been trying to solve the mystery of dreams since ancient times. Once upon a time, interpreters of dreams were revered as great sages, and their services were incredibly in demand. Almost everything that is known today about the content of dreams is based on old dream books and private surveys. We all have different dreams, but some themes remain the same at all times:
- school (lessons, exams),
- the pursuit,
- erotic scenes,
In addition, many people dream of dead people as living, or vice versa – as if the living have already died.
Thanks to neuroimaging technology, scientists have learned to penetrate our dreams. By analyzing the work of the brain, one can unravel the hidden meaning of the images that a sleeping person sees. A group of Japanese specialists managed to decipher the meaning of dreams with 70% accuracy from MRI scans. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently discovered that the same parts of the brain are used during sleep as in reality. For example, if we dream that we are running somewhere, the area responsible for movement is activated.
6. To what extent are dreams related to reality?
Real events have a great influence on dreams. Most often, we dream of acquaintances. Thus, the participants in the experiment knew by name more than 48% of the heroes of their dreams. Another 35% could be identified by the social role or nature of the relationship: friend, doctor, policeman. Only 16% of the characters were unidentified, less than one fifth of the total.
Many dreams reproduce autobiographical events – images from everyday life. Pregnant women often dream about pregnancy and childbirth. Hospice workers – how they look after patients or the patients themselves. Musicians – melodies and performances.
Another study showed that during sleep we are able to experience sensations that are not available in reality. People immobilized from early childhood often dream that they walk, run and swim, and are deaf from birth – what they hear.
Everyday experiences are not always instantly reproduced in a dream. Sometimes life experience transforms into a dream after a few days, or even after a week. This delay is called a dream lag. Experts studying the relationship between memory and dreams have found that different types of memory affect the content of dreams. They display both short-term and long-term memories, otherwise – the experience of the day and week.
Dreams are not only a reflection of everyday life, but also an opportunity to cope with difficulties.
Dreams about current and past events are considered an important part of memory consolidation. Moreover, the memories recreated in a dream are rarely consistent and realistic. Rather, they appear as scattered fragments, like shards of a broken mirror.
Dreams are not only a reflection of everyday life, but also an opportunity to cope with difficulties and unforeseen situations. While we sleep, consciousness reimagines traumatic events and comes to terms with the inevitable. Grief, fear, loss, separation and even physical pain – all emotions and experiences are replayed. Studies show that those who mourn loved ones often sleep with them. Typically, such dreams are built according to one of three scenarios. Person:
- returns to the past when the dead were still alive,
- sees them contented and happy,
- receives messages from them.
The same study found that 60% of bereaved people admitted that these dreams helped them cope with grief.
7. Is it true that dreams suggest brilliant ideas?
In a dream, a sudden guess may indeed visit us, or a dream may inspire us to be creative. According to a study on musicians’ dreams, they do not just regularly dream of melodies: most of the songs are played for the first time, which suggests that it is possible to compose music in a dream. By the way, Paul McCartney assures that he dreamed of the song “Yesterday”. Poet William Blake and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman also claimed to find the best ideas in their sleep. Golfer Jack Nicklaus recalled that sleep helped him work out flawless swing. Many lucid dreamers deliberately use dreams to solve creative problems.
Dreams provide inexhaustible opportunities for self-knowledge and reliably protect our fragile psyche. They can provide a way out of an impasse and calm a rushing mind. Healing or mysterious, dreams allow us to look into the depths of the subconscious and understand who we really are.
About the Author: Michael J. Breus is a Clinical Psychologist, Dream Specialist, author of Always On Time: Know Your Chronotype and Live Your Biorhythm, Good Night: A Four-Week Road to Sound Sleep and Strong Health, and others.