Questions to ask 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, 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


Read also 19 Nov 2022 12:36

Vadim Nemkov to fight Corey Anderson again for $1 million 18 Nov 2022 13:33 nine0030 What harm does the body constantly fall asleep after midnight 29 Oct 2022 11:15
Where did the cartoon characters come from in Alekseevsky village 16 Aug 2022 15:28
Where to start when choosing a good mattress* 27 Jun 2022 12:02

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.


VRF news

5 questions about sleep

  • Science
  • nine0082 / Biology

February 14, 2018 | Author: Aleksey Paevsky

5 questions about sleep

Sleep is one of the most common, but at the same time, one of the most unexplored phenomena of our life.

Why are we sleeping? How much sleep do you need? Who is cooler: "owls" or "larks"? Neuroscience provides answers to these questions.

Question 1. Why do we need sleep?

One of the main tasks of the brain during sleep is processing everything that we remember during the day. So we forget the unnecessary and form new memories. While we sleep, our hippocampus, the area of ​​the brain responsible for memory, processes the information accumulated during the day. It is not yet known exactly how this happens. Most likely, this is a complex process: chemical changes in neurons and the creation of new neural connections and the destruction of old ones. So sleep is definitely not worth neglecting. Especially when learning something new: sleep quality is critical to learning. nine0008

Sleep is also necessary for the recovery of the body. And if someone claims that he has not slept for a minute at all for two weeks in a row, but is not delusional and does not look like a dying person, he is either deceiving, or he has the so-called paradoxical insomnia (that is, he sleeps, but does not remember it) . No wonder sleep deprivation is the most painful and cruel execution.

Question 2. How much sleep do you need?

The answer to this question comes from a study published in 2011 by Professor Francesco Cappuccio of the University of Warwick. Cappuccio has analyzed the lives and sleep patterns of nearly half a million people around the world. It turned out that if you sleep less than 7 hours and more than 9increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from a heart attack. The same relationship exists for the occurrence of diabetes - this was proved by Toshikaki Okuma from the University of Kyushu. A Japanese scientist in 2014 conducted a large-scale study in which 4,000 Japanese took part.

But this is for adults. Children and teens need more sleep: 1-2 years 11-14 hours a day, 2-5 years 10-13 hours, 6-13 years 9-11 hours, 14-17 years 8-10 hours . nine0008

Why does a growing body need more sleep? First, a more intense metabolism requires more time to recover. Secondly, at this age, children and adolescents are actively learning, mastering the world around them. And to work with a large amount of information, to form significant amounts of memory, of course, more time is required.

The least risk is if you get 7-8 hours of sleep. Sleep less or more - the risk is the same. On the left side of the graph, everything is more or less clear. Little sleep - higher risk of disease; a person with chronic sleep deprivation is less attentive and risks dying in an accident. On the right side, it is more difficult: it is not a fact that excess sleep is the cause of the disease. Here, probably, there is another dependence: a person began to sleep longer due to some illness that is not yet noticeable. nine0008

There is an opinion that instead of a full sleep, you can sleep in short bursts of 20 minutes. Alas, studies conducted by the US Army Research Laboratory in Texas have shown that 20 minutes of sleep is not effective at all and does not help with lack of sleep. The minimum duration of sleep should be at least 45 minutes, and even better - two hours, the authors of the report add.

Question 3. Is it possible to sleep in the light?

Sleep and awakening are regulated by the hormone melatonin. It synchronizes our "internal clock" with sunlight. When morning light hits the retina, melatonin levels drop and remain low throughout the day. And the peak production of the “hormone of the night” falls on the interval from midnight to five in the morning. Thanks to melatonin, energy reserves are actively spent during the day, and at night the body is restored and “repaired”. nine0008

Light from street lamps, nightlights, all kinds of gadgets delay the production of melatonin. This impairs sleep and leads to health problems

Light level and melatonin synthesis

The signal from retinal cells enters the hypothalamus. The impulse of the hypothalamus to the pineal gland is blocked. The pineal gland stops the synthesis of melatonin.

Question 4. Larks or owls?

It is with the difference in the work of the "internal clock" that the division into "larks" and "owls" is connected. Scientists from the USA, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Estonia, Germany, Korea, Scotland conducted a genome-wide study on the material of 128,000 inhabitants of Britain and proved the existence of at least 22 genetic variations responsible for referring a person to "owls" or "larks". nine0008

So it will not be possible to independently move from one category to another without editing the genome. In night owls, the peak of melatonin production is on average shifted closer to the morning - and this is what makes us night owls.

It is impossible to say unequivocally what is better for the body - to be a “lark” or to be an “owl”. But the discrepancy between the rhythm of life and the “internal clock” is definitely harmful.

A person who arrives in a country on a different meridian usually experiences jetlag - jet lag syndrome.

Learn more