Common questions about dreams

8 Common Questions About Dreams: Interpretations and Symbols |

From dream interpretation to dream journals — get all of your dream-related questions answered.

Chances are you’ve woken up from a dream where you were falling or late for something. Maybe you’ve even dreamt of your teeth falling out, flying, or being inside water and wondered what it means.

Perhaps you’ve also questioned the very purpose of dreams or the purpose of dream journals — all of which are common questions many people have about dreams. The average person spends 229,961 hours asleep in their lifetime, so it’s natural to wonder about your sleep state.

For all of your dream-related questions, PsychCentral has your dream answers.

Do humans always dream?

“Because the brain remains active even during sleep, it is believed that humans dream every night,” says Po-Chang Hsu, a medical doctor and medical content expert at SleepingOcean. “However, people often forget their dreams right after waking up, which has to do with how the brain works during sleep.

“Studies show that the [part of the] brain responsible for memory formation (the frontal lobe) is inactive during the REM stage when we typically dream, which is why people often don’t recall dreaming.”

Do dreams mean good sleep?

Not necessarily, according to Hsu. “The human brain can dream during any sleep stage,” he says. “Therefore, a person can see dreams without entering the deep, most restorative sleep.”

With that said, we do know that research shows good sleep is vital for wellbeing. Several studies link the extraordinary importance of sleep for a thriving, healthy life.

What do dreams tell us about our mental state?

According to research, dreams may provide insight into your mental state, including your emotional well-being.

For example, one study from the NIH found that nightmares were more than two-fold more frequent in individuals with mood or psychotic disorders than those without.

Another NIH study also shows that those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often have recurring nightmares about their trauma. “This suggests that dreams may play a role in processing and coping with traumatic events,” explains Aúgusta.

What are common symbols in dreams?

“Most people mention dreaming of falling, running away from someone, flying, reliving childhood memories, working, dying, and seeing people they know,” explains Hsu.

“The meaning behind these symbols has to be discovered individually, as it’s largely based on the person’s current mental state and life circumstances.”

Can you control your dreams?

According to Dr. Nathan Brandon, a licensed psychologist, it is possible to influence dreams and have some control over their content through lucid dreaming.

“Lucid dreaming is a process where you become aware you are dreaming while still asleep,” explains Brandon. “Once you’re aware that you are dreaming, you can attempt to control the dream by changing the dreamscape or influencing the characters in the dream.”

How do you interpret dreams?

“Dreams are made up of a combination of images, thoughts, feelings, and sensations that occur during sleep and can be influenced by factors such as your mood, memories, and experiences,” explains Brandon. Yet, according to Brandon, interpreting dreams is highly personal and doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer.

“Often, the symbols and emotions in a dream are related to events or situations in the dreamer’s waking life,” explains Brandon. “In general, you can interpret your dreams by looking at the symbols and images in the dream and exploring your association with them.”

What’s the purpose of a dream journal?

“Dream journals are often used as a tool for self-reflection and understanding dreams,” explains Brandon. “By keeping a journal, you can track patterns in your dreams over time and gain insight into the symbolism and meanings of your dreams.”

You can use your journal to explore deep questions that arise from your dreams in a space you know is safe.

Dream journals can also be helpful during therapy. According to Hsu, “writing the dreams down often helps people process their emotions or dig deeper, for example, to discover what causes nightmares or recurring dreams.

You could, in turn, consider bringing your dream journal to your next therapy session to discuss your dreams with your therapist.

What are some techniques for better dream recall?

On top of keeping a dream journal, Aúgusta offers a few techniques to help you with dream recall:

  • Keep your dream journal by your bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up.
  • Set the alarm for a few hours before you usually wake up and try to remember your dreams when you wake up.
  • Make a habit of thinking about your dreams before you go to bed.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed, such as deep breathing.

While more research on dreams is required, your dreams can still give you a lot of insight into your waking life right now.

Start noting and recalling dreams, and consider what they’re trying to tell you — either in your journal or with a trusted friend or therapist. You never know what insight you may find in your mind.

And whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming.

How do you improve sleep quality and get more REM sleep? Consider sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and adopting healthier habits (more exercise, less caffeine, limit screen time before bed, etc.).

How many times do you dream a night? Researchers have discovered that the average person goes through four to six sleep cycles each night, so it is thought that we dream around that number. However, experts are not fully sure.

How can you practice lucid dreaming? Practicing mindfulness meditation, especially a few hours before your regular wake-up time (and then go back to sleep), can help you get better at lucid dreaming. It can also help to keep a dream journal.

What stage of sleep do you dream the most? Dreaming occurs most during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, considered the deepest and the most restorative sleep stage.

12 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Dreams, Answered

Source: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

1. What are dreams?

Dreams are mental experiences that occur while we are asleep. We know of the existence of dreams because most of us report having mental experiences such as thoughts, images, and emotions while asleep—and we can see consistent areas of the brain become activated during dream-sleep.

2. Why do we dream?

There are many theories, but nobody truly knows. Some researchers believe dreams have no function. Others believe that they serve to process intense emotions, or that they facilitate consolidation of emotional memories.

Still others believe that they protect sleep via hallucinatory fulfillment of a libidinal wish. And some believe that dreams simulate daytime threats so that we become better at avoiding them. (This latter theory appears to predict opposite dream content effects from those of the libidinal wish fulfillment theory.)

Some believe dreams function to run counterfactual simulations to daytime events (or possible daytime events) so that we learn from them. And some believe that dream content functions to promote emotional attachment patterns with others. There are many other theories of dream function but all of those mentioned here do have some limited empirical support.

3. Does everyone dream?

No. There appears to be a very small number of people who can recall very few dreams, if any. The fact that such people can function perfectly well without recalling any dreams suggests that conscious recall of dreams may not be required for normal brain function—unless these people (who appear not to dream) have developed some compensatory brain processes that perform whatever functions dreams normally perform, such as consolidation of emotional memories. The idea would be that if the vast majority of people consolidate their emotional memories via dreams, a small number of people who do not dream would have to have developed alternative means for consolidation of emotional memories.

4. How long do dreams last?

Nobody knows for sure. Rapid eye movement, or "REM" sleep, the form of sleep associated with vivid dreaming, can last up to about 45 minutes but we really have no definitive method for timing dreams.

Subjective estimates of dream length, however, are proportional to length of dream reports. This is consistent with the theory that dreams can last a long time rather than flash by in an instant as some early dream theorists conjectured.

The fact that dreams have substantial duration suggests that the events in dreams should be densely populated with events, people, happenings, and other elements common to normal daytime experiences. Our dream reports, however, typically lack the extensive details normally associated with dense real-life experiential episodes.

5. Are dreams meaningless?

It is unlikely that dreams are meaningless—very few, if any, are random assemblages of images. Instead, most dreams are structured into narratives. Some dreams (dreams that tend to be associated with N3 NREM sleep) can lack narrative action and instead are just presentations of a visual scene or a single set of thoughts. Still, even these non-narrative dreams are not meaningless to the dreamer.

6. What are most dreams about?

Various types of dreams cannot be reduced to this formula, but nevertheless, content analyses of thousands of dream reports from people of all ages and walks of life substantiate this basic claim: Most dreams depict people familiar to the dreamer interacting in various ways with the dreamer.

7. What are lucid dreams?

Lucid dreams are dreams during which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming. Not surprisingly, properties of lucid dreams differ significantly from ordinary dreams. Most importantly, some prefrontal neural networks exhibit higher activation levels in lucid dreams relative to ordinary non-lucid dreams.

8. What are nightmares?

Nightmares are scary or terrifying dreams that typically occur in REM sleep and leave the dreamer shaken or disturbed to some extent upon awakening. Some researchers maintain that for a dream to be a nightmare it has to be disturbing enough to awaken the dreamer. Other experts point out that many non-scary dreams (erotic, sad-nostalgic, creative, spiritual) can be intense enough to awaken the dreamer, so the awakening criterion is not empirically adequate for nightmares.

9. What are the most common dream disorders?

The most common dream disorders are:

  • Anxiety dreams (often associated with slight sleep in insomnia)
  • Recurrent nightmares
  • Repetitive dream themes
  • REM Behavior Disorder (wherein the dreamer acts out his dreams)
  • Dreams of depression (empty emotional content)
  • Vivid fantastic dreams that may portend illness of some kind, occasionally including psychosis.

10. How can I remember more of my dreams?

Keep a dream diary handy next to your bed and get in the habit of recording dreams upon awakening. Online dream posting websites can also make regular dream recording easy.

11. Do animals dream?

There is no scientific consensus on whether animals dream. Animals do experience REM sleep and sometimes it appears that their bodies react as though they are dreaming while asleep. Given that mental simulations automatically occur when higher cortical centers are activated in humans, it seems plausible that animals also “experience” mental simulations when their brains are activated, as in REM.

12. What part of the brain lights up when we dream?

Neuroimaging studies of people in REM suggest that the limbic system is especially active during REM, with the amygdala undergoing intense activation during REM.

90,000 11 questions and answers about sleep and dreams. Society news

Sleep training. How to fall asleep in two minutes

Why do we need sleep at all?

During sleep, the physical and mental functions of the body and hormonal levels are restored. It is during sleep that all the information we receive is transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. Therefore, students are often advised to study before bed. nine0008

How long should proper sleep last?

Average sleep duration is 7-8 hours. But some need a little more time to restore strength, while others get enough sleep even in 6 hours: this is due to the peculiarities of the nervous system. Therefore, the main criterion for the quality of sleep is well-being. If after sleep a person feels fresh and cheerful, then everything is in order. But in any case, you need to sleep at least 5 hours!

What if you sleep more or less than you should?

A person adapts well to almost everything. If you chronically lack sleep, then there is a certain optimization of the brain: it begins to solve the same number of tasks in a shorter period. But this requires much more energy and physical resources, the fuel of the nervous system - vitamins, microelements - is consumed very quickly. It happens that a person sleeps more than 9-10 hours. If he feels good after that, then the body needs it. But if he feels increased drowsiness, he can fall asleep against the background of a strong emotion, a medical problem may be hiding here - for example, the wakefulness hormone orexin is not produced. nine0008


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Can I sleep on weekends?

You can try to compensate for the lack of sleep in this way, but it will not work for a long time. So it is better to try to sleep regularly as much as you need. And be sure to take into account that the difference between sleep on weekdays and weekends should not be more than an hour.

Is there any point in daytime sleep?

Daytime sleep is prohibited if there are chronic sleep disorders: a person will fall asleep worse in the evening. If there are no violations, then daytime sleep will not harm anything and, on the contrary, will help restore strength. But it is important that it last no more than an hour and be no later than five o'clock in the evening. nine0008

Why shouldn't you eat before bed?

When a person eats, the brain understands: you are going to work now, you need to direct this energy somewhere! The nervous system is excited, the person cannot fall asleep. Therefore, you need to monitor your diet: have a hearty dinner no less than three hours before bedtime, and an hour before you can organize a light snack, preferably from long-lasting carbohydrates: cereals, bananas.

What is the ideal place to sleep?

The room should have fresh air, a comfortable place to sleep - not too hard and not too soft mattress. Before falling asleep, you can use nightlights, but it is better to sleep in the dark. A big problem is noise: for example, loud neighbors or cars outside the window. In this case, earplugs can be used. It is important to monitor the temperature: the lower it is, the better for the body. For different latitudes, the temperature comfortable for sleeping may differ slightly, in our case it is 18–21 degrees. nine0008

Photo: Valeria Alisova

What do you need to sleep well?

Enough good mood, sports, balanced nutrition. It is advisable to devote at least half an hour in the morning to physical activity: running, swimming, brisk walking. An hour before bedtime, you need to put gadgets aside. You should not drink coffee at night, sort things out, experience some kind of stress - in general, do everything that excites the nervous system. nine0008

Can I read before bed?

Book is the best sleeping pill. When we read, we get pictures, our imagination develops, and this is the substratum of creativity, the work of the brain. The book helps to switch attention from restless thoughts. So it's good to read before bed. True, it is better not in bed.

Do lucid dreams exist?

Dreams are products of subconscious activity, and it is hardly possible to control them. In a dream, what is most relevant for the brain is manifested. For example, it is considered that Mendeleev dreamed of the periodic table. Because there was a high concentration on this problem. Sleep acts as an intermediary of the creative process: at night the brain continues to work, and in the morning you can wake up with a ready-made solution in your head.


WRF News

Psychologist explains what archetypal dreams are: why the same dream is constantly repeated, for example, falling or collapsed stairs, and how to get rid of anxiety after a nightmare | 59.



Why do different people dream of the same scenes that have not been experienced in reality?

- Dreams may not depend on what is happening. Neuropsychologists believe that the common motifs of dreams are explained by an inherited set of mental categories. The similarity of dreams is due to the basic structure of neural connections, it is the same for all people. Since the structure of the brain is the same, therefore, emotions are processed in the same way.



The described archetypal dreams cause discomfort. Does this indicate anxiety in life?

- Anxiety, frustration and fear are dream affects. Dreams are the results of our mental activity, one of its main functions is compensatory. That is, dreams help us discover some kind of problem, survive and complete some kind of daytime experience, cope with anxieties and fears.

The psychologist does not advise to constantly "run away" from nightmares, but to try to "listen" to them, since dreams can be a projection of reality. nine0008



What do certain archetypal dreams mean?

Archetypal dreams can be deciphered because some of them, according to the psychologist, have a certain meaning for a particular person or hide the thought process that a person experiences in wakefulness. A psychologist can help uncover the replacement and understand the hidden meaning of sleep. One of the methods is psychoanalysis.

- Attention during the conversation is paid to the elements of the content, the patient's feelings that arose during sleep and after, events that are expected or happened. Images, details, the attitude of a person to what is depicted in a dream are of importance for analysis. Such an analysis of behavior helps to move from the explicit meaning to the hidden one. nine0008



What to pay attention to in a dream?

If a dream recurs and frightens you, and you want to get rid of this impression, Victoria advises you to contact a psychologist - he will help you live through this dream. And if after sleep you feel a breakdown, this can be discussed with a therapist, a somnologist or the same psychologist with the request to “relieve symptoms”.

— The main thing is to understand why this dream appeared — maybe a person abuses alcohol, is nervous, does not rest, walks a little. And even the geomagnetic field of the earth, magnetic storms can affect the quality of sleep. It is necessary to correlate the possible reasons with why a person had such a dream. nine0008



Anxious archetypal dreams and mental problems

— You may notice that some states in a dream can resemble a state of psychosis, hysterical seizures, hallucinations. According to such symptoms, if the dream is repeated repeatedly, a disorder can be assumed. A dream can be dreamed from night to night, it can be aggravated each time, according to the description, the dream can be similar to a description of the clinical picture of some kind of illness.

Dreams of fear, according to a specialist, may be evidence of an epileptic seizure, psychosis may manifest itself after a dream, it itself can cause psychosis, but on condition that the person already has a predisposition. Also in a dream, a crazy idea may come that will develop after it. nine0008

These processes are handled by psychiatry, but if you suspect certain disorders, it is better to initially contact a psychologist who can redirect you to a colleague.



Phases of sleep and exit from disturbing dreams

We see dreams in a certain phase - delta sleep, it is at this time that we have nightmares. Victoria says that these nightmares can be escaped if the person realizes they are in a dream. To do this, you need to make an effort of will over yourself, for example, jump high, try to take off, close your eyes or start blinking. If you see unpleasant characters, then you can try to look them in the eye and ask what they need, in other words, look fear in the face. nine0008



Sleep management

Victoria claims that it is possible to control dreams. Not the fact that it will work the first time, but you can train.

— In science, sleep control is called lucid dreaming. This is a special technique that allows a person to see the dream that he wants, go into sleep when he wants, and also get out of it. This is the intersection point of the conscious and the unconscious. But psychophysiologists believe that during a lucid dream, the brain does not rest. nine0008

The psychologist advises to start working with lucid dreams in the office of a specialist - this way he can control the situation and help in an unforeseen situation. Also in the psychologist's office, you can work out immersion techniques for further independent use.



How to get rid of discomfort after a disturbed dream

The most important rule is not to go back to sleep, because it can continue. The psychologist offers several ways: turn on pleasant music, take a shower and imagine how this unpleasant sensation flows down with water. Or apply breathing techniques, and at this time imagining where the sensation “sits” in the body, try to “breathe” it.

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