What Are Dreams? Why Do People Have Them And What They Mean

Sleep is a topic that is often studied to identify the physiological and psychological impact that both sleep and sleep deficiency has on the body. Sleep disorders are often discussed to provide the general population with guidance on how they can overcome problems that are keeping them from enjoying a peaceful night.

One particular topic that may be even more interested, yet often fail to be discussed as much, is dreams. Everyone dreams, regardless of who they are.

You can be male or female, of any ethnic race, and even experience symptoms associated with mental disorders or sleep disorders, and you will still be able to dream.

The topic of discussing dreams is interesting and yet a mystery at the same time. Hundreds of dream studies have been conducted. Scientists have discovered a lot of facts about dreams.

Still, however, there is a significant number of mysteries that still need to be discovered. Many topics related to dreams still remains a mystery, even to sleep and dream experts.

Today, we do not want to focus on the unknown, but rather take a look at what has already been discovered. Dreams are not new – people have been experiencing them since the beginning of time.

In recent times, however, scientific advancements have made it possible for more to be discovered about these events that take place while we are asleep.

We will provide our readers a comprehensive overview of what dreams are, why we dream, what dreams mean, and more – so keep on reading to learn more.


Interestin​​​​g Facts About Dreams

dreaming woman

Dreams have been studied for a significant amount of time, with discovered notes and writings dating back to the 1800s. It was, however, only in 1953 that Nathaniel Kleitman, a physiologist in the United States, took a neuroscientific approach toward the study of dreams. Today, the idea of neuroscience in the role of dreams have become essential. This provides a foundation for many studies.

One study explains that many discoveries have already been made about dreams, such as:

  • People are more likely to experience visual imagery in their dreams as compared to certain types of senses, such as taste, touch and audition.
  • Strong emotions and interactions between characters are often found in dreams.
  • Content can be extensively variable in dreams – not only from one person to another person’s dream, but also from a single dream to the next dream in one specific person.
  • Men are more likely to experience violence and aggression while dreaming, as compared to women.
  • People are more likely to remember their dream when they wake up during the REM sleep phase, as compared to waking up during the NREM sleep phase.
  • Women are more likely to remember their dreams than men, but there is only a very slight difference here.
  • Certain cognitive abilities have been associated with dreaming and a person’s ability to remember a dream.

What Are Dreams?

Explaining what a dream is can be a difficult task, even for a dream expert. Even though dream researchers already know a lot about these events, they are still unsure about many factors of dreaming.

A dream is generally described as images and sounds, along with additional senses, becoming present in our subconsciousness. Think of a dream as a story that your subconscious is telling. This all happens while we are asleep.

 Dreams can include any number of senses that we use for survival on a daily basis – even though sight and hearing are the most common senses that become active during a dream, or at least become senses we imagine experiencing during a dream, other senses may also come into play.


Different​​​​ Types of Dreams

types of dreams

There are different types of dreams that a person can experience, some being pleasant and some, of course, being completely unpleasant and even scary. Let’s consider some of the most common dream types that can occur. The first type would be a standard dream – with no real meaning and no real classification. Here is an overview of more specific dream types that may be experienced:

#1. Lucid ​​​​Dreams

A term that is used to describe a scenario where a person is aware of the fact that they are in a dream and not awake. Lucid dreams are actually quite powerful. With some training, many people find the ability to exert some level of control over lucid dreams. These dreams are also considered beneficial for a person, which is why quite a lot of people are becoming interested in finding out more about lucid dreams and how they can become in control while they are dreaming.

#2. Recurrin​​​​g Dreams

Recurring dreams can include the exact same dream over-and-over, or different dreams, but with a similar overall theme. It is quite rare for recurring dreams to be pleasant in nature, as they usually include disturbing images and sounds, which can be considered a nightmare. In most cases, recurring dreams manifest due to underlying emotional problems in a person’s life.

#3. Nightm​​​​ares

We have all experienced nightmares before. This is the type of dream where something horrible happens to you. Nightmares generally include the appearance of disturbing images, sounds, and elements that interact with other senses. Some people experience nightmares more frequently than others, and some nightmares may be worse than others.

#4. “Healing​​​​” Dreams

A term that is often used to provide an explanation to a dream that relates to the person’s health. These dreams are often revealing about some specific health problems or issues that a person may be faced with, offering a reminder that they need a checkup.

#5. Prop​​​​hetic Dreams

Prophetic dreams are dreams of the future. Some believe that dreams can, at times, provide an overview of what’s to come in the future. Others tend to think that this is completely ridiculous. These dreams are usually the result of the subconscious mind puzzling together memories that may reveal important information about the future.

#6. Daydreams

Daydreaming occurs while a person is awake – we all experience this. Those moments where you stare into the unknown – a completely random spot, without focusing on any specific. Your mind wodners off and you are thinking… or “dreaming”… of something. While you are not asleep during a daydream, you are, at the same time, not entirely aware of your surroundings. The average person spends as much as 120 minutes each day daydreaming.


Why We ​​​​Dream

Similar to explaining what a dream is, dream researchers are still not entirely sure why a person dreams when they are asleep. There are many theories related to why we dream, but no definite answer has yet been given to this question.

Further research into this topic may yield better and more accurate descriptions of the reason behind dreams in the future. Some believe that there is no real reason for dreaming – that it is simply our subconscious mind playing out a series of images, sounds, and other events. Others, however, believe that there is a deeper meaning to why we dream. One theory states that dreams assist with the stimulation of our overall wellbeing – physical, mental and emotional.

It has been proven through scientific research that dreams might have an impact on the health of a person. According to WebMD, not allowing a person to enter a dream state may cause them to experience a higher risk of concentration problems, anxiety, tension, and even signs of depression. Daytime hallucinations, coordination problems, and weight gain have also been associated with the failure to dream.

When ​​​​dreams occur

Even though another topic that holds some mystery, the majority of dream studies that have been performed up until this point have confirmed the stage of sleep during which dreaming occurs. Most studies have noted that dreaming occurs during the REM sleep phase. This is also known as the Rapid Eye Movement phase. During this phase, a series of events take place in the body – including a surge in brain activity. Up to 25% of our sleep consists of the REM phase, while the rest consists of the NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) phase.

 We go through several cycles of NREM and REM sleep each night – every time we reach the REM phase, we stay in that phase for a little longer. Eventually, the REM sleep phase can last for as long as 30 minutes – this is usually when dreaming occurs.

Factors That Influence Dreams

What you dream can be affected by a number of different factors in your life.

1. Trauma

Trauma is one particularly interesting and frightening topic. Many people who have experienced a traumatic event will continue to experience flashbacks of the event in the form of vivid dreams. They may even feel like they are experiencing the traumatic event all over again in their dream. This can be quite unfortunate and cause a person to suffer greatly during their sleep.

2. Stre​​​​ss

Stress may also have an impact on your dreams. If you experience a significant amount of stress during your daily life, such as problems at work or perhaps even in your relationship, then the stress may manifest itself in your dreams. Stress management techniques that lower levels of stress may yield a more peaceful night’s sleep, resulting in less vivid dreams and a lower risk of unpleasant “bad” dreams.

3. Medic​​​​ation

Certain types of pharmaceutical drugs have also been identified to have an effect on a person’s dreams, according to one review paper. Drugs that may interact with your dreams include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antihypertensive drugs
  • Antihistamines
  • General Anesthetics
  • Analgesic Drugs (Including buprenorphine and morphine)
  • Hormone Replacement Drugs
  • Immunosuppressant Drugs
  • Antimicrobial Drugs
  • Hypnotics And Sedatives
  • Antiepileptic Drugs
  • Drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease

4. Ag​​​​e

Age also plays a role in dreams. It is known that younger people have more colorful and vivid dreams than older people. As much as 80% of older people are also unable to dream in color.

5. Gend​​​​er

Whether you are a man or a woman may have a slight impact on your dreams. There is not a significant difference between dream time, but rather about what you may dream about. Men are known to have more aggressive and violent dreams than women, while women, on the other hand, often dream about their families, babies and similar settings.


Frequently Asked Questions

How much an average person dreams?

thinking about dreams

Since most people tend to easily forget about their dreams or the fact that they even had a dream in the first place, it may not seem like we dream a lot at night. Quite the opposite is true in reality, however. Dream studies have confirmed that the average person tends to dream multiple times in a single night’s sleep.

While the first sessions of REM sleep are usually too short for dreaming to occur, the majority of people do tend to experience dreams during the final two REM phases they enter. Studies have suggested that, on average, a person may have as much as six different dreams in one session of sleep. This does not account for every single person. One individual may dream more than another. A person may also dream more on one occasion than another.

The amount of sleep a person gain has an impact on how much they dream. The longer you sleep, the more time you have to spend in the REM sleep phase, and the more you can dream.

Why dreams are hard to remember?

If you are able to remember what you dreamt about last night, then you should most definitely consider yourself lucky. As much as 99% of all our dreams are forgotten. Thus, when you do remember a dream, you should be wary of the fact that the dream you remembered is only one of the countless previous dreams you have had. There are multiple theories surrounding the fact that we cannot always remember what we dreamt about.

One theory suggests that people are forgetting about what they dreamt about because it does not concern them enough. This theory is supported by the fact that people who do tend to show an interest in their own dreams seem to find it much easier to remember their dreams.

Another theory suggests that we forget our dreams because norepinephrine, a hormone that has an important role to play in the human brain’s memory function, is switched off during sleep. In turn, you may experience images, sounds, and other senses while you sleep, but the chemicals needed to store them as a memory are not present.

How you can improve your recall of dreams?

For many, remembering their dreams are important. Luckily, there are some ways in which dreams can be better remembered. One of the most effective ways is to start focusing on your dreams more and telling yourself that you will remember what you dreamt about.

A dream journal is often considered one of the most powerful tools for remembering your dreams. Buy a dream journal and keep it beside your bed, along with a pen. Before you go to sleep, tell yourself that you want to remember your dream. Concentrate on your dream. The moment you wake up, you should take your dream journal and write everything you can remember about your dream. As you become more focused on your dreams, you may start to realize that you gradually remember more-and-more every night

How dreams work in blind people?

Many people wonder whether blind people can also dream. The answer is yes, they can dream, but dreams work somewhat differently in blind people than they do in people with normal vision.

First of all, you should consider whether a particular person has been blind for their entire life, or became blind later in life. If they have not been blind since birth, then they may still see images in their dreams.

People who are born blind do not see any images while they are sleeping, but rather experiences dreams based on the other senses they do have – they hear, feel and smell in their dreams.


The Meaning of Dreams

Many theories have been shared regarding whether or not dreams truly have a meaning behind them. David B. Feldman Ph.D. explains that, in ancient times, the Egyptians believed dreams to be revelations, or images from the gods above. Some of the more recent studies that have been conducted on dreams suggest otherwise.

Many dream scientists believe that dreams are actually an overview of one’s inner-self. A way to find out more about what is going on in your own mind – dreams are, after all, created by your subconscious mind.

Scientists have discovered that the appearance of certain objects or symbols in a dream, or having a specific type of dream, might have particular meanings. It is still, however, important for every person to look at their dreams from a personal perspective.

Color Versus Black and White Dreams​​​​

woman sleeping

For the majority of the human population, especially the younger generations, dreams are usually portrayed in color in their subconsciousness. Unfortunately, it is not so for every single person on this planet.

While around 80% of people under the age of 30 do tend to only experience dreams in color, the remaining 20% is dreaming in black and white. When you take a look at an older generation, particularly those over the age of 60, things go the opposite. Approximately 20% of elderly individuals are expected to still continue dreaming in color, while the remaining 80% dreams in black and white.


Conclusion​​​​

Although we may not always remember our dreams, we all dream on a regular basis. Dreams can be pleasant or a complete nightmare. With the right steps and through self-awareness, we can even become in control, to some degree, of our dreams.

Many sleep studies have been performed to get a better understanding of what dreams are. While scientists do not yet have a complete understanding of dreams, it is known that they play a part in our overall wellbeing. This guide provided a complete overview of dreams, including what they are, how they work and how self-awareness can help you have better lucid dreams.

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