Dreaming – what is it all about?

Dreaming 101.Dreams have fascinated us since the dawn of time.  Some people swear they don’t dream and some say they have dreams that foretell the future.  Most of us are just confused by our dreams and wonder what they’re all about.

There are also many famous dreamers – Joseph from the bible, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Hitler and Joan of Arc were said to have spent a lot of time analysing their dreams and those of others and using them as guidance in their daily lives.

And there are many theories about dreams (think of Freud, Jung and other scientists and psychologists) because no one can agree what purpose they serve.

  • What happens when we dream?
  • And what if you don’t dream?
  • Are we the only species that dream?
  • What examples are there of common dreams and what they mean?
  • How do you keep a dream diary?

We’re going to look at these 5 questions in this article.

What happens when we dream?

Sleep happens in a cycle of 5 stages.  Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, and a very different stage: Stage 5, REM sleep.  REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and you’ve probably seen this in someone who is sleeping – their body is still but their eyes flicker back and forth under the eyelids.

We dream during REM sleep and even people who have been blind from birth experience REM sleep.  They just don’t report seeing pictures when they describe their dreams.

Sleep scientists divide sleep in to REM sleep and Non-REM sleep because these 2 types of sleep are so different.  When these scientists look at the brain wave activity patterns for people who are in REM sleep, they are very similar to those for people who are awake.  Something significant is clearly happening when we dream.

No one is 100% sure why we dream, but psychological theories about dreams being a pressure release valve for the mind are confirmed when people are not allowed to go into dream sleep (see below).

What happens if you don’t dream?

Many people say that they never dream.

Sleep scientists would argue that they don’t remember their dreams, but they do actually dream.  This is because studies done on people who are deprived of their dreaming (REM) sleep show signs of becoming over tired, psychotic, delusional and other mental instability.

Do other animals dream?

If you have a pet cat or dog you’ve probably seen them ‘running’ in their sleep and wondered if they’re dreaming about chasing something.

It is thought that other animals do indeed dream and in one famous (and harmless) experiment, Dr William C Dement of Stanford University showed that the brainwaves of a sleeping cat are almost identical to those of a waking cat – even more so than the similarities between sleeping and waking humans (see above).

Examples of common dreams and their proposed meanings.

  • Dreaming about falling: we may fear we are falling from grace; being dropped; or going through an ordeal that will bring us down.  People often waken before they reach the bottom but many land safely.
  • The feeling of being chased can represent a feeling of being persecuted in our waking lives – that someone has hostile intentions towards us.
  • Dreaming about flying is another common theme.  These dreams are often exciting rather than scary and may indicate that the dreamer wants to rise above her problems or be free from a mundane situation.
  • Dreaming about certain colours (see below) can be linked to certain moods or feelings in the dream.

Red in a dream is said to relate to physical energy, especially health if it’s a positive dream.  If it’s negative then it may represent an argument or anger.

Yellow relates to intellectual matters and may be telling you to think and use your head to solve a problem.

Orange is associated with being sociable and friendly.

Green is peace and relaxation.

Blue is the colour of protection.

Violet is said to symbolise spiritual aspirations and religious beliefs.

How do I remember my dreams better?

Some dreams we remember for a lifetime and others disappear as soon as we wake up.

Keeping a dream diary can be really helpful in recalling and understanding our dreams.   And if we can understand our dreams we can better understand ourselves.

To keep a dream diary:

  1. Find a suitable notebook that you can dedicate as your dream diary. Even have a special pen to go with the book.  This may seem silly but it’s part of setting your brain up to remember your dreams.  Place them beside your bed so you can reach for them as soon as you wake up.
  2. Before you go to sleep, further program your brain to remember your dreams.  Do this by visualising yourself remembering your dreams and writing them down.  Tell yourself in a positive and determined way that you are going to remember your dreams.  This suggestion will go into your subconscious and make it more likely that you can recall what you’ve dreamed.  It takes a little practise so don’t give up after the first night.
  3. Write down as much as you can about each dream as soon as you wake up.  Number each dream and record the date.  You’ll start to find that reaching for your pen and diary as soon as you’re conscious becomes a habit.
  4. Record: the atmosphere, mood and feeling in the dream; was there a theme? Who was there?  What were they doing?  How did that make you feel? What other objects, signs and symbols could you seen/feel/hear?  Think in as much detail as possible.  Was there any movement, travelling; any colours, conversations or associations with events from the previous days/weeks?
  5. If you can’t remember anything about the night’s dreaming then simply note your mood as you wake up.  This may give you a clue to the types of dreams you’ve had.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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