What Dreams Mean and Why We Have Them
When we drift off into a state of slumber, our minds remain partly active and often allow us to explore different worlds and scenarios which may be exciting, frightening, confusing, romantic, or completely bizarre! We all dream. But, some of us don’t remember what we dreamt about when we wake up, while others can. Not to mention that our dreams are unique to us. At HSL, we understand the importance of having a good night’s sleep kip, so we wanted to uncover more about this mystifying part of sleep. Keep reading as we explore what dreams mean, why we have them, and the different types.
What are dreams?
While there’s no simple explanation of dreams, they are often characterised as stories or hallucinations that our mind creates when we are asleep. During a dream, the dreamer is in a state of consciousness but generally has no control over the dream. Dreams are a predominantly visual experience, but they can include all of the senses – touch, taste, sound and smell.
It is thought that we have around four to six dreams per night, each lasting anywhere from five to twenty minutes. They generally occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep, which is where we experience increased bodily movement and faster breathing. Scientists think that they happen here as our brain wave activity is most similar to when we’re awake. But, they can also happen during different sleep phases.
Our dreams mirror fundamental patterns of human behaviour. They reflect who we are, what we need, and what we believe in.
Why do we dream and what causes them?
Despite extensive research, no one knows exactly what causes dreams as they are notoriously difficult to study. There are many different theories about what dreams mean and why we have them. Some say they bear deep significance, while others think they have no meaning at all. There are also two different approaches to studying dreams: neuroscience and psychology.
The father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, was one of the first to suggest that dreams are a window into our subconscious and that dreaming enables us to sort through unresolved and repressed wishes. In this school of thought, dreams can help us to process memories, emotions and learnings, aid cognitive ability, solve problems, facilitate creativity, express desires and wishes that we didn’t even know we had. Perhaps there’s some truth in the old wives’ tale to ‘sleep on it’ before making a big decision!
Neuroscientists have suggested that dreams could be an ancient biological defence mechanism linked to our ‘fight or flight’ response which helps us to simulate potential threats and gives us an evolutionary advantage. Whereas others believe that dreams are just electrical brain pulses that pull random thoughts and images from our memories and don’t have any real significance.
What are nightmares?
Nightmares are bad dreams that are frightening, stressful or upsetting. They can be caused by anxiety, stress and some types of medications. Just like dreams, no one is exactly sure what causes nightmares. Most people experience the occasional nightmare, but if you have them frequently, you might have a sleep disorder and may need help from a medical professional.
What are lucid dreams?
Lucid dreams are when the dreamer is aware that they’re dreaming; they can sometimes control the dream, but this is not always the case. These kinds of dreams most commonly occur during REM sleep. Like normal dreams, not much is known about them, but scientists think that activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain is related to the development of lucid dreams.
What do dreams mean?
Have you ever dreamt about being able to fly, or having all your teeth fall out? Exactly what these types of dreams mean is unknown, but we can look at some of the most common interpretations.
Dream lag is where the images, stories or people you may experience in a dream are those that you have seen or thought about recently. Scientists believe that these experiences can take about a week to become part of our long-term memory and as part of the process of consolidation, they can appear in our dreams.
It’s also thought that dreams can be a manifestation of our suppressed thoughts, whether that’s fears, relationships or embarrassment. When we are comfortable and our brains are in a state of rest, these thoughts can re-emerge in our dreams.
The most common kinds of thoughts are things like being chased, falling, arriving late, having magical powers, a death, finding a new room in a house – the list goes on. Often if you can remember a dream and reflect on it, you may draw parallels to a real-life scenario or belief – but, sometimes they are just completely random!
The Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who worked closely with Freud, thought that dreams were a manifestation of your subconscious and personal beliefs. So, they are honest portrayals of who we are and can only be interpreted by the dreamer themselves – if at all. ‘Psychological compensation’, as he called it, was where dreams help to maintain a healthy, dynamic balance between our consciousness and unconscious.
Unlike Freud who looked for the causes of dreams in early life experiences, Jung tried to understand where dreams might be going or leading to, and what they might tell us about the dreamer’s future life development.
Ultimately, dreams remain a fascinating and mystifying part of sleep that we’ll continue to study for years to come. To make sure you are comfortable and supported when you drift off into a state of slumber, discover our feel good furniture range of mattresses and beds which are all approved by our independent Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings.