Dreams can be entertaining, disturbing, or downright bizarre. We all dream, even if we don't remember it the next day.
But why do we dream? And what do they mean and is it possible to influence them?
What are dreams?
Dreams are basically stories and images that our minds create while we sleep. They can make you happy, sad or scared. And they can seem confusing or perfectly rational.
Dreams can occur at any time during sleep. But the most vivid dreams occur during a phase called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when your brain is most active. Some experts say we dream at least four to six times a night.
A lucid dream is one in which you know you are dreaming.
Research shows that lucid dreaming is accompanied by increased activity in parts of the brain that are typically restful during sleep.
Lucid dreaming is a brain state between REM sleep and being awake.
Some lucid dreamers are able to influence their dream, changing the story, so to speak. This can be a good tactic to take sometimes, especially during a nightmare, but many dream experts say it's better to let your dreams unfold naturally.
A nightmare is a bad dream. It is common in children and adults. Often this happens because of:
- Stress, conflict and fear
- Emotional problems
- Medication or drug use
If some of your nightmares come back again and again, your subconscious may be trying to tell you something. It might be interesting to listen to them.
If you can't understand why you're having bad dreams, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to help you understand what's causing your nightmares and give you tips on how to make yourself more comfortable.
Keep in mind that no matter how scary a nightmare is, it is not real and probably won't happen to you in real life.
Why do we dream?
There are many theories about why we dream, but no one knows for sure. Some researchers say that dreams have no purpose or meaning. Others say we need dreams for our mental health, emotional and physical charge .
Studies have looked at the importance of dreams for our health and well-being. In one study, researchers woke people up just as they were entering REM sleep. They found that those who were not allowed to dream had:
- More tension
- A form of depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of coordination
- Weight gain
- A tendency to hallucinate
Many experts say that dreams exist to:
- Help solve problems in our lives
- Incorporate Memories
- Dealing with emotions
If you go to bed with a troubling thought, you may wake up with a solution or at least feel better.
Some dreams can help our brain process our thoughts and events of the day.
Others may simply be the result of normal brain activity and mean very little, if anything. Researchers are still trying to understand exactly why we dream.
How long do dreams last?
REM sleep lasts only a few minutes early in the night, but gets longer as we sleep. Later at night it can last more than 30 minutes. So you could spend half an hour in a single dream.
What do dreams mean?
The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that dreams are a window into our subconscious and reveal a person's:
- Unconscious desires
Freud believed that dreams were a way for people to satisfy urges and desires that were not acceptable to society.
Just as there are different opinions on why we dream, there are different views on the meaning of dreams.
Some experts say that dreams have no connection to our real emotions or thoughts. These are just strange stories that don't concern normal life.
Others say that our dreams can reflect our own thoughts and feelings - our deepest desires, fears and concerns, especially dreams that repeat themselves.
Often, people report having similar dreams: they are being chased, falling off a cliff, or appearing naked in public. These types of dreams are likely caused by hidden stress or anxiety.
The dreams may be similar, but experts say the meaning of the dream is unique to each person.
Experts also advise against relying on books or “dream dictionaries,” which give a specific meaning to a specific dream image or symbol. The reason for your dream is unique to you.
Why are dreams hard to remember?
Researchers aren't sure why dreams are easily forgotten. Maybe we are designed to forget our dreams because if we remember them all, we may not be able to distinguish dreams from real memories.
Additionally, it might be more difficult to remember dreams because during REM sleep, our body can stop the process of creating memories.
We can only remember dreams that occur just before we wake up, when certain brain activities are reactivated.
Some say it's not that our minds forget dreams but that we don't know how to access them. Dreams can be stored in our memory, waiting to be recalled.
This may explain why you suddenly remember a dream later that day: something may have happened to trigger the memory.
Is it possible to influence your dreams?
What goes into creating dreams is a topic that interests almost everyone, including scientists.
Here are some things they discovered that can influence what happens once you close your eyes.
1. Sleeping on your stomach gives you erotic dreams
People who sleep on their stomachs are much more likely to have erotic dreams than those who fall asleep in other positions.
According to a study, people who sleep on their stomachs tend to be out of breath at night, and because of this, they often have dreams of wild sex.
People who sleep in such a position often experience racier dreams, such as those that involve being "tied up" or "locked in."
Another interesting fact to note is that most people who have experienced such dreams state that they often involve a very famous personality.
2. Nightmares can be shared / genes influence your nightmares
Identical twins may generally have the same interests and habits, but scientists have discovered that their genetic basis is much stronger than anyone can imagine.
It's so strong that they can even experience nightmares at around the same frequency. In a large study of nearly 2,700 identical twins and 4,200 non-identical twins, scientists found that identical twins are twice as likely to have frequent nightmares as fraternal twins, which is both impressive and slightly scary.
3. Earth's magnetic field triggers strange dreams
It is possible that the Earth's magnetic field has a profound effect on people's dreams.
Psychologist Darren Lipnicki recorded his dreams for over eight years and concluded that low geomagnetic activity caused stranger dreams, but when geomagnetic activity was high, dreams became more normal and more sensitive.
His findings are strictly anecdotal but provided the impetus for further controlled studies.
4. What you hear and smell influences your dreams
Our mind interprets the noise that occurs around us while we sleep and makes it part of our dreams.
This means that sometimes in our dreams we hear a sound from reality incorporated into it in a way that makes sense to our subconscious.
In one study, researchers found that there was a significant difference between the dreams of people who didn't hear music and those who did.
Those who heard reported hearing music in their dreams.
Even smells influence dreams. Similar to noise, our brain interprets smells as a signal and incorporates them into dreams.
For example, the smell of roses gave people pleasant dreams while the smell of rotten eggs gave people strange dreams.
Do dreams impact sleep quality?
Dreaming is one of the most unique and intriguing aspects of sleep. During a normal night's sleep, it is normal to spend about two hours dreaming.
Dreaming is an integral part of healthy sleep. Good sleep is associated with better cognitive function and emotional health, and studies have also linked dreams to effective thinking, memory, and emotional processing.
In this way, many experts believe that dreaming is either a reflection of or a contributing factor to quality sleep.
However, not all dreams are created equal. Some dreams can have a negative impact on sleep. Bad dreams involve frightening, threatening, or traumatic content.
When a bad dream causes you to wake up from sleep, it may be considered a nightmare.
Are nightmares bad for sleep?
Nightmares can interfere with sleep, but usually only when they occur frequently or are particularly disturbing.
Most people have a bad dream or nightmare from time to time without any noticeable impact on the quality of their sleep. However, when nightmares occur often, they can become an obstacle to sleep.
For some people, nightmares occur several times a week and/or more than once a night.
Nightmare disorder can be defined as the occurrence of frequent nightmares that interfere with a person's sleep and/or mood or thoughts during the day.
People with nightmare disorder may have restless sleep with more awakenings and greater difficulty falling back to sleep.
Additionally, they may feel anxious about falling asleep for fear of having the same nightmare again, which increases their risk of insomnia and sleep deprivation.
If you experience nightmares more than once a week, if your sleep is disrupted by nightmares, or if you notice that your daytime mood, thoughts, or energy level are affected by nightmares, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor.
A doctor can work with them to identify the most likely cause and the optimal treatment to reduce these bothersome dreams.
Do dreams affect everyday life?
Knowing the exact impact of dreams on daily life remains subject to further research, but there are a number of ways dreams can influence our waking hours:
- Healthy dreaming can be a sign of quality sleep that facilitates thinking, better mood, and overall good health.
- People who remember their dreams often show higher levels of creativity.
- Dreaming can provide more expansive or inspiring reflection, forming the underlying concept behind the maxim of "follow your dreams."
- Dreaming can improve memory consolidation, making it easier to remember important information.
- People with mental health conditions, such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, may experience more severe symptoms following recurring nightmares.
- Nightmares can interrupt sleep, cause daytime sleepiness, low mood, or problems thinking during the day.