They are irrational, disturbing, intoxicating, or even frightening – our dreams most often surprise us. How do we interpret them and do we believe in them? Do we know what they are serving? If we fluctuate in the response, although the opinions of dream researchers are not uniform, here are some approaches and research results to it.
In ancient times, dreams were believed to convey messages sent by the gods that reveal our future. Centuries later, Sigmund Freud, the creator of psychoanalysis, in 1899 published The Dream Interpretation. in his work he saw the dream as an expression of subconscious desires. The study of dreams still faces the difficulties of exploration and mobilizes a multitude of researchers around the world to try to explain the mysteries of our “dream life”.
For a long time, it was thought that we only dream in the paradoxical (REM) stage of sleep, which is characterized by: rapid eye movement and temporary sleep paralysis (temporary loss of muscle tone), accompanied by increased brain activityn. These short (10–45 min) episodes, which are repeated 4–5 times at night (for a total of about 2 hours during an 8-hour sleep period), were thus first identified as the site of dreams. Later, however, sleep researchers found that we also dream of slow-wave sleep phases. Thus, people who do not have paradoxical sleep (due to brain damage or taking certain medications) continue to dream.
If people sleep differently, their dreams will also be different. They are complex, rich in images, emotions during the paradoxical dream, when the emotional centers are very active. While they are simpler, more specific in the slow sleep phase, and less easily remembered: every second when we are suddenly awakened, while in the REM phase, 8 out of 10 times. Thus, our brain “produces content” all night. Nevertheless, we forget a lot about these “motionless journeys”.
What is the role of dreams?
Research has shown that the hippocampus, a key area of memory in the brain, is strongly activated during the paradoxical sleep phase. Sleep has been shown to be involved in the process of memorization, but in reality it would be more about sorting, arranging, and especially forgetting the information stored in our memory. Thus, it can also be called a “brain cleansing” process to make room for additional information / memories and avoid overloading neural networks. This forgetfulness of information could explain why our dreams are irrational, after often mixing unrelated images. Dreams also seem to play a role in regulating the emotions experienced, allowing us to reduce the intensity of dreaming, step back from them, and maintain mental balance.
What are we dreaming of?
In the 1950s, American psychologists created the first dream bank (DreamBank) compiled from a significant amount of resources and scientific studies and then made it available to researchers. This database, still available today, contains more than 20,000 “dream reports” from different age groups and demographics. We find everything in them, but perhaps surprisingly, they report on our daily lives and social interactions in particular, while we are 90% present in them.
It’s a common dream that applies to the previous day, even if it’s not a “replayed scene,” but everything gets mixed up in it, and many times rejoiced, foolish, or even absurd. Incidentally, when the senses (usually in color) and hearing dominate most in dreams, smell and taste are very rare (1%). In addition, the “scenarios” of our dreams may contain (often distorted) external stimuli such as e.g. car noise, rain sound, etc.
Why don’t we often remember them?
If we have the impression that we never dream, we are wrong! Undoubtedly, it is not clear whether the “big dreamers” actually dream more or just remember their dreams better than the few dreamers. Some researchers analyzing the brain function of sleeping people have shown that the memory of dreams is due to the phases of nocturnal micro-awakenings that would allow them to be encoded in memory. The night awakening time of the “big dreamers” is double that of the little dreamers! In addition, their brains appear more alert to external stimuli and more adept at “producing” dreams.
Even if we don’t understand clearly why dreams disappear (95% according to some dream researchers), it’s also true that we can more easily remember our early morning dreams before waking up. We can also enrich dream memories – which requires interest – for which it is very effective if we create our “dream book” where we write down everything we remember from dreams.
Should we be afraid of our nightmares?
Of course, negative or disturbing dreams cannot be taken for granted or taken as a prediction. This is proved e.g. results from a French sleep researcher who collected the dreams of 700 medical students taking the exam. It turned out that the vast majority of them had a nightmare in which they failed, missed the exam, became ill, did not have enough time to answer the exam questions, and so on. And, of course, these dreams caused further anxiety in them.
However, in the context of students and their results, the researchers found that victims of bad dreams scored better on exams than if their brains were trained under exam stress to improve their performance. A Finnish researcher also assumed that nightmare is a cognitive defense mechanism that would allow the brain to prepare for difficulty as a kind of stimulation.
However, recurring and worrying, sometimes frightening dreams reflect a deep, often stifled emotional problem – either because of physical conflicts or after some depressing, traumatic life event (post-traumatic stress). It is therefore in our interest to consult a specialist if they occur frequently. Techniques such as e.g. hypnosis or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) developed in the USA can help. get rid of the torturous effects and nightmares caused by trauma.
How do we interpret dreams?
A dream can help us recall our experiences by “activating” memories we don’t have access to when we wake up. These dreams, not in the strict sense, usually make us think, and we can use them to recall information stored in the brain, as a carrier of our imagination or inspiration. There is no need for a “dream dictionary” – the solution depends on us! One piece of good advice: every night, we describe the events that made our day hectic and considered them important. And in the morning, we record our dreams in great detail and look for the matches / relationships that “speak to us”.
Can dreams be controlled?
Yes! A recent Canadian experiment e.g. was able to trigger (very rare) dreams related to flying by stimulating the analyzed sleepers during the day with immersive virtual reality experiences. And stimuli like e.g. a spray of water on the face can cause a dream of a waterfall or rain. Likewise, if a nightmare repeats itself and we remember when we wake up, changing the “scenario” can help it go away.
Even more shocking is the lucid dream mental state in which the sleeper “knows” that he is in his dream and can directly influence the dream scenario or add elements to it. But in doing so, we sleep less deeply and are not exactly in the same state as in “normal” dreaming. However, it is accessible to everyone (55% of people have already experienced a clear dream) and it is even possible to train…
Dreams during confinement
Several international research groups have addressed our dreams during the confinement caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic. For example, the American Psychological Society published several studies in September 2020 that showed that the epidemic is affecting our dreams. According to the study, there was an increase in the number of dreams that contained negative emotions, anxiety, anger, or sadness, and references to death or illness during the study period. This was particularly the case for the people most affected by Covid-19 (e.g., those who were ill or affected by relatives or lost their jobs) and women.
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