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What exactly does it signify when we dream?

A dream is a story or an image that is created by our minds while we are sleeping. They can be entertaining, amusing, romantic, distressing, frightening, and occasionally weird, depending on the situation.

They continue to be a source of intrigue for scientists and psychological practitioners to this day. What causes dreams to occur? How did they come about? Is it possible to exert control over them? What exactly do they mean?

This article will examine the current ideas, causes, and applications of dreaming, as well as their implications.

What are dreams?

Dream imagination

During sleep, dreams are a universal human experience that can be described as a state of awareness marked by happenings in sensory, cognitive, and emotional domains.

The dreamer has less influence over the content, visual pictures, and activation of the memory than they had in the awake state.

There is no cognitive state that has been as extensively investigated and yet has been as widely misunderstood as dreaming, despite the fact that it is the most common.

Neuroscientific approaches to dream analysis and psychoanalytic approaches to dream analysis differ markedly from one another in important ways.

Researchers are particularly interested in the neural structures that are involved in dream production, dream organisation, and narratability. [source: wikipedia] Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, is concerned with the interpretation of dreams and the placement of dreams in the framework of connections in the dreamer’s past.

Dream reports are frequently filled with emotional and vivid experiences that involve themes, worries, dream figures, and things that are closely related to those experienced in waking life.

These aspects combine to generate a fresh “reality” out of virtually nothing, resulting in an experience with a realistic chronology and network of relationships.


Nightmares are uncomfortable dreams that lead the dreamer to experience a variety of distressing emotions. The most common reactions to a nightmare are fear and anxiety, among others.

They can affect both adults and children, and the following factors contribute to their development:

  • stress
  • fear
  • trauma
  • emotional difficulties
  • illness
  • use of certain medications or drugs

Lucid dreams

Lucid dreaming occurs when the dreamer is conscious of the fact that they are dreaming. They might be able to exert some control over their dream.

It is possible to have varying degrees of control during lucid dreams. It is common for them to occur in the middle of an ordinary dream, when the sleeping individual becomes aware that they are dreaming for the first time.

Some people have reported that they have experienced lucid dreaming at random, while others have reported that they have been able to develop their ability to control their dreams over time.


There are a variety of hypotheses as to why we dream. Rather than being simply a part of the sleep cycle, are dreams used for some other purpose?

Among the possible explanations are:

  • a symbol for unconscious desires and desires to be fulfilled
  • deciphering random impulses from the brain and body when you are sleeping
  • bringing together and analysing the information acquired throughout the day
  • serving as a type of psychotherapeutic intervention

Researchers have hypothesised that dreaming performs the following roles, based on evidence and novel study approaches:

  • offline memory reprocessing, in which the brain consolidates learning and memory tasks and supports and records waking consciousness
  • preparing for possible future threats
  • cognitive simulation of real life experiences, as dreaming is a subsystem of the waking default network, the part of the mind active during daydreaming
  • helping develop cognitive  capabilities
  • reflecting unconscious mental function in a psychoanalytic way
  • a unique state of consciousness that incorporates experience of the present, processing of the past, and preparation for the future
  • a psychological space where overwhelming, contradictory, or highly complex notions can be brought together by the dreaming ego, notions that would be unsettling while awake, serving the need for psychological balance and equilibrium

There is still a lot we don’t know about dreams. They are, by their very nature, difficult to examine in a laboratory setting, but technological advancements and new research approaches may aid in our comprehension of dreams in the future.

Phases of sleep

In a sleep cycle, there are five phases of sleep that occur:

Stage 1: you’ll have light sleep with sluggish eye movement and reduced muscle activity. This stage accounts for 4 to 5 percent of the total amount of sleep.

Stage 2: The eye movement stops and the brain waves become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves known as sleep spindles. This stage accounts for 45 to 55 percent of the overall amount of sleep.

Stage 3: The appearance of extremely slow brain waves known as delta waves, which are interspersed with smaller, quicker waves, is signalling. This accounts for 4 to 6 percent of the entire amount of time spent sleeping.

Stage 4: The brain produces virtually solely delta waves at this point. It is difficult to wake someone who is in phases 3 and 4, which are together referred to as “deep sleep.” There is no movement of the eyes or of the muscles. In many cases, people who are awakened while still in deep sleep may not adjust instantly and may feel disoriented for several minutes following their awakening. This accounts for about 12 and 15 percent of total sleep.

Stage 5. Rapid eye movement (REM) is the term used to describe this period. During this period, breathing becomes more rapid, uneven and shallow, the eyes jerk rapidly in different directions, and the limb muscles become briefly paralysed. Males experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as penile erections. When people awaken during REM sleep, they frequently recount weird and illogical things that they have heard. These are only fantasies. This stage accounts for 20 to 25% of the entire amount of time spent sleeping.

Dreaming has been connected to the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, which neuroscientists believe is a viable candidate for the cause of the dreaming.


Our dreams may be influenced by the thoughts that run through our heads shortly before we fall asleep.

Students may have dreams about course topic, for example, when they are studying for an exam. When someone are in a relationship, they may have dreams about their spouse. Programming code may be visible to web developers.

In light of these circumstantial data, it appears that parts of the ordinary reappear in dream-like imagery during the transition from awake to sleep.

Researchers have looked into the “characters” that emerge in dream reports and how the dreamer is able to distinguish between them.

A study of 320 adult dream reports was conducted:

  • Forty-eight percent of characters represented a named person known to the dreamer.
  • Thirty-five percent of characters were identified by their social role (for example, policeman) or relationship to dreamer (such as a friend).
  • Sixteen percent were not recognized

Among named characters:

  • Thirty-two percent were identified by appearance
  • Twenty-one percent were identified by behavior
  • Forty-five percent were identified by face
  • Forty-four percent were identified by “just knowing”

Characters with bizarre features were found in 14 percent of both named and generic characters.

One further study looked into the connection between dream emotion and dream character identification.

Acquaintances with well-known personalities were frequently connected with them, and they were used to identify them even when their emotional characteristics were discordant with those of the waking state.

Specifically, it appears that during dreaming, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved with short-term memory, is less active than when awake, and that the paleocortical and subcortical limbic areas are more active.


The term “repression” comes from the work of Sigmund Freud. According to Freud, unwanted memories might be suppressed in the mind through repetition. Dreams help to alleviate repression by allowing for the restoration of certain memories.

According to a recent study, sleep does not aid in the erasure of undesirable memories. Instead, REM sleep may even work to counteract the suppression of memories that have been voluntarily suppressed, making them more available for retrieval.

The assimilation of memories into dreams is characterised by the presence of two types of temporal effects:

  • the day-residue effect, involving immediate incorporations of events from the preceding day
  • the dream-lag effect, involving incorporations delayed by about a week

The findings of one study suggest that:

  • processing memories into dream incorporation takes a cycle of around 7 days
  • these processes help further the functions of socio-emotional adaptation and memory consolidation

Dream lag

It is known as dream-lag when the sights, events, or persons that appear in dreams are the same images, experiences, or people that you have encountered recently, such as the previous day or the week before.

Some sorts of events, according to the theory, take a week to become encoded in long-term memory, and some of the images from the consolidation process will manifest themselves in a dream.

Events that occurred while the dreamer was awake are claimed to appear in 1 to 2 percent of dream reports, whereas parts of recent waking life experiences are said to appear in 65 percent.

The dream-lag effect has been observed in dreams that take place during the REM stage, but not in dreams that take place during stage 2.

Types of memories and dreaming

The basis of a dream can be based on two different types of memories.

These are:

  • autobiographical memories, or long-lasting memories about the self
  • episodic memories, which are memories about specific episodes or events

The following were discovered in a study involving 32 individuals that investigated different types of memory within dream content:

  • One dream (0.5 percent) contained an episodic memory.
  • Most dreams in the study (80 percent) contained low to moderate incorporations of autobiographical memory features.

According to the findings of the research, memories of personal experiences are experienced fragmentarily and selectively during dreaming, rather than in their entirety. It is possible that the goal is to incorporate these memories into the long-lasting autobiographical memory.

Studies examining the dreams of psychiatric patients and individuals with sleep disorders have found evidence to support the concept that dreams reflect waking-life events. Their daytime symptoms and difficulties are reflected in their dreams, to put it another way.

In 1900, Sigmund Freud identified a type of dream known as “biographical dreams,” which were based on his own life. These correspond to the historical experience of being an infant who did not have the typical defence function available to them. Many authors feel that some terrible dreams have the ability to aid in the recovery process.

According to one paper, the most important component of traumatic dreams is to express an experience that the dreamer has but does not understand while in the dream. This can assist a person in reconstructing their memories and coming to terms with prior trauma.


In some cases, the themes of dreams can be linked to the suppression of undesired thoughts, which can result in an increased recurrence of that suppressed notion appearing in dreams as a result.

For five minutes before going to bed, fifteen good sleepers were asked to repress an unwelcome idea that they were having.

Specifically, the findings show that there was an increase in nightmares regarding the undesirable concept, as well as a tendency to experience more upsetting dreams. They also suggest that suppressing one’s thoughts can result in a considerable increase in the symptoms of mental disorders.

According to the findings of research, environmental stimuli provided during sleep can have an impact on the emotional content of dreams.

A positive stimulus such as roses, for example, was shown to be associated with more favourably themed dreams in one study, while a negative stimulus such as rotten eggs was found to be associated with more negatively themed dreams.

When it comes to dreaming, typical dreams are described as dreams that are comparable to those reported by a large percentage of dreamers.

Questionnaires have been used to investigate the frequency of occurrences of typical dream themes up to this point. These have revealed that a rank order of 55 typical dream themes has remained steady across a variety of sample populations, according to the findings.

The 55 themes identified are:

  • school, teachers, and studying
  • being chased or pursued
  • sexual experiences
  • falling
  • arriving too late
  • a living person being dead
  • a person now dead being alive
  • flying or soaring through the air
  • failing an examination
  • being on the verge of falling
  • being frozen with fright
  • being physically attacked
  • being nude
  • eating delicious food
  • swimming
  • being locked up
  • insects or spiders
  • being killed
  • losing teeth
  • being tied up, restrained, or unable to move
  • being inappropriately dressed
  • being a child again
  • trying to complete a task successfully
  • being unable to find toilet, or embarrassment about losing one
  • discovering a new room at home
  • having superior knowledge or mental ability
  • losing control of a vehicle
  • fire
  • wild, violent beasts
  • seeing a face very close to you
  • snakes
  • having magical powers
  • vividly sensing, but not necessarily seeing or hearing, a presence in the room
  • finding money
  • floods or tidal waves
  • killing someone
  • seeing yourself as dead
  • being half-awake and paralyzed in bed
  • people behaving in a menacing way
  • seeing yourself in a mirror
  • being a member of the opposite sex
  • being smothered, unable to breathe
  • encountering God in some form
  • seeing a flying object crash
  • earthquakes
  • seeing an angel
  • part animal, part human creatures
  • tornadoes or strong winds
  • being at the movie
  • seeing extra-terrestrials
  • traveling to another planet
  • being an animal
  • seeing a UFO
  • someone having an abortion
  • being an object

Some dream themes appear to shift over time, while others remain constant.

For example, between 1956 and 2000, there was an increase in the percentage of people who reported flying in their dreams, according to. A possible explanation is that plane travel is becoming more popular.

What exactly do they mean?

Relationships. A particular cluster of typical nightmares, which includes being an object in peril, falling, or being hunted by a hound, has been linked to interpersonal difficulties, according to some theories.

Sexual concepts. Flying and having sexual experiences are all associated with libidinal and sexual motivations. Finding money and eating delicious food are also part of another cluster associated with these motivations.

Fear of embarrassment. A third category of dreams, which includes dreams about being nude, failing an examination, being late, losing teeth, and dressing poorly, is related with social anxieties and a fear of embarrassment, according to the research team.

The functioning of the brain and the forms of dreams

Using neuroimaging techniques to study brain activity during rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep), scientists discovered that the distribution of brain activity may also be associated with specific dream elements.

Normal dreams share certain strange characteristics with well-known neuropsychological illnesses that occur after brain damage, including delusional misidentifications of people and places.

Dreams and the senses

People who were suffering from various sorts of headaches were asked to report on their dreams. According to the findings, persons who suffer from migraine have an increased frequency of dreams including taste and smell.

This may imply that some cerebral regions, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus, play a part in migraine mechanisms, as well as in the biology of sleep and dreaming..

Music in dreams is a subject that has received little attention in scholarly literature. However, in a study involving 35 professional musicians and 30 non-musicians, the musicians reported having twice as many dreams including music as the non-musicians

The frequency of musical dreams was found to be connected to the age at which music training began, but not to the amount of musical activity performed on a daily basis. The fact that over half of the recalled music was non-standard suggests that original music can be formed in dreams, according to the researchers.


A number of studies have demonstrated that genuine, localised painful sensations can be experienced in dreams, either directly from memories of pain or through direct absorption. Pain dreams, on the other hand, occur infrequently in healthy participants.

When 28 non-ventilated burn victims were interviewed for 5 consecutive mornings during their first week of hospitalisation, the results were published in one study.

As a result, the findings revealed:

  • Thirty-nine percent of people reported pain dreams.
  • Of those experiencing pain dreams, 30 percent of their total dreams were pain-related.
  • Patients with pain dreams showed evidence of reduced sleep, more nightmares, higher intake of anxiolytic medication, and higher scores on the Impact of Event Scale.
  • Patients with pain dreams also had a tendency to report more intense pain during therapeutic procedures.

More over half of those polled did not report having nightmares about pain. These findings, on the other hand, could imply that pain dreams occur at a higher rate in groups that are now suffering pain than they do in healthy individuals.


In one study, frontotemporal gamma EEG activity was found to be associated with conscious consciousness in dreams.

According to the findings of the study, current stimulation in the lower gamma band during REM sleep has an effect on on-going brain activity and can create self-reflective awareness in dreams.

The researchers came to the conclusion that oscillations between 25 and 40 Hz are associated with higher order consciousness.


According to recent research, there are connections between different patterns of love attachment and different types of dream content.

The results of study assessment of 61 student participants who had been in committed dating relationships for at least six months demonstrated a statistically significant relationship between relationship-specific attachment security and the extent to which dreams about romantic partners followed.

The findings contribute to our understanding of mental representations in the context of specific attachment figures, according to the authors.

Death in dreams

In a mental clinic, researchers studied the dream content of different groups of people to see what they had in common. Participants in one group had been hospitalised after making an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide.

Three control groups at the institution had undergone the following events, and their dreams were compared to those of this group.

  • depression and thoughts about suicide
  • depression without thinking about suicide
  • carrying out a violent act without suicide

The likelihood of having dreams with content pertaining to death and destructive violence was higher among those who had thought or attempted suicide or who had carried out violent acts. The degree of an individual’s depression was one component that had a role in this.

The left and right hemispheres of the brain

The right and left hemispheres of the brain appear to contribute in distinct ways to the production of dreams, according to research.

According to the findings of one study, the left hemisphere appears to be responsible for dream origin, but the right hemisphere is responsible for dream vividness, figurativeness, and the level of affective engagement.

According to the findings of a study conducted on adolescents aged 10 to 17 years, those who were left-handed were more likely to have lucid dreams and to remember dreams that occurred within other dreams.

Forgetting dreams

According to brain activity studies, the majority of persons over the age of ten dream between four and six times each night, however other people have little or no recollection of their dreams.

It is commonly stated that 5 minutes after having a dream, people have forgotten 50% of the substance of the dream, with that percentage climbing to 90% another 5 minutes later.

The majority of dreams are completely forgotten by the time someone awakens, yet it is not known why dreams are so difficult to recall.

Among the steps that may be taken to improve dream recollection are:

  • waking up naturally and not with an alarm
  • focusing on the dream as much as possible upon waking
  • writing down as much about the dream as possible upon waking
  • making recording dreams a routine

Who remembers their dreams?

Many elements can potentially influence whether or not a person remembers their dreams, how much of the dream is retained, and how vivid the dream is.

Age. A person’s sleep schedule, structure, and electroencephalographic (EEG) activity are likely to alter throughout time as a result of their environment.

In accordance with the evidence, dream recollection begins to decline gradually from the beginning of maturity, but does not decline in older age. In addition, the dream becomes less intense. This progression develops more quickly in men than in women, and there are disparities in the content of dreams between the sexes.

Gender. Following an investigation into the content of dreams experienced by 108 male participants and 110 female participants, it was discovered that there were no significant differences in the amounts of aggression and friendliness, sexuality, male characters, weapons, or clothing that appeared in the dreams.

Females’ dreams, on the other hand, contained a greater number of family members, babies, children, and indoor settings than males’ dreams.

Sleep disorders. Patients with insomnia have increased dream recall, and their dreams reflect the stress that they are experiencing as a result of their condition. People who suffer from narcolepsy may experience nightmares that are more odd and nasty in nature.

Dream recall and well-being

One study investigated if the recollection of dreams and the content of dreams were indicative of the social relationships of the individual who was dreaming.

Attachment, dream recall, dream content, and other psychological indicators were investigated in a study including college students who participated as volunteers.

On a “insecure attachment” scale, participants who scored “high” were substantially more likely to report the following characteristics:

  • report a dream
  • dream frequently
  • experience intense images that contextualize strong emotions in their dreams

Older participants who were classified as having a “preoccupied” attachment style were substantially more likely to report the following behaviours:

  • report a dream
  • report dreams with a higher mean number of words

Participants who were “avoidant” had the lowest dream recall, while subjects who were “preoccupied” had the greatest.

Who has the ability to dream?

Everyone has dreams, even if they are not remembered by the dreamer. Our dreams may alter depending on the stage of our lives or the circumstances of our experiences.

Children’s dreams

After conducting an investigation into anxiety nightmares in 103 children aged 9 to 11 years, the researchers discovered the following:

  • Females more often had dreams containing anxiety than males, although they could not remember their dreams as often.
  • Girls dreamt more often than boys about the loss of another person, falling, socially disturbing situations, small or aggressive animals, family members, and other female people they may or may not recognize.


Researchers compared the dreams of pregnant and non-pregnant women revealed the following conclusions:

  • Infant and child representations were less specific in women who were not pregnant. Among those who were pregnant, these images were more likely in the late third trimester than in the early third trimester.
  • During pregnancy, dreams were more likely to include the themes of pregnancy, childbirth, and fetuses.
  • Childbirth content was higher in the late third trimester than early in the trimester.
  • The group who were pregnant had more morbid elements in their dreams than those who were not.


Those who provide care to family members or those who are ill for an extended period of time frequently have dreams about that person.

An investigation into the dreams of persons who have spent at least a year working with patients in hospices in the United States discovered the following:

  • Patients tended to be clearly present in the dreams of caregivers, and the dreams were typically realistic.
  • In the dream, the caregiver typically interacted with the patient in their usual capacity but was also typically frustrated by the inability to help as fully as desired.


Many people feel that people going through a period of mourning are more likely to have oppressive dreams.

According to the findings of a study that looked at dream quality as well as the relationship between oppressive dreams and bereavement, oppressive dreams include:

  • were more frequent in the first year of bereavement
  • were more likely in those experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression

In another study  of 278 people experiencing bereavement:

  • Fifty-eight percent reported dreams of their deceased loved ones, with varying levels of frequency.
  • Most participants had dreams that were either pleasant or both pleasant and disturbing, and few reported purely disturbing dreams
  • Prevalent themes included pleasant past memories or experiences, the deceased being free of illness, memories of the deceased’s illness or time of death, the deceased in the afterlife appearing comfortable and at peace, and the deceased person communicating a message.
  • Sixty percent felt that their dreams impacted upon their bereavement process.

Does everyone dream in color?

Younger people are more likely to dream in color.
Younger people are more likely to dream in color.

Researchers discovered in a study that:

  • About 80 percent of participants younger than 30 years old dreamed in color.
  • At 60 years old, 20 percent said they dreamed in color.

Through the years 1993 to 2009, the number of people in their twenties, thirties, and forties who dreamed in colour grew. It has been suggested by researchers that colour television may have played a part in the generational divide.

Another study, which included questionnaires and dream diaries, discovered that older persons had more black and white dreams than the younger study participants.

A large number of older persons indicated that their colour dreams were equally vivid as their black and white dreams. Younger participants, on the other hand, reported that their black and white dreams were of lower quality.

Is it possible to forecast the future through dreams?

Some dreams may appear to foretell what will happen in the future.

Some researchers assert that they have proof that this is conceivable, but there is not enough evidence to support this assertion.

The majority of the time, this appears to be the result of a coincidence, a mistaken recollection, or the unconscious mind connecting disparate pieces of information.

The interpretation of dreams may assist people in learning more about their own feelings, beliefs, and values. Images and symbols that appear in dreams will have meanings and connections that are unique to the individual who has the dream.

People who are trying to make meaning of their dreams should consider what each component of the dream means to them as an individual before proceeding.

A book or a handbook that provides particular, universal interpretations to images and symbols may be unhelpful in some situations.

Withdrawal from drugs

One study tracked the content of dreams of people who regularly use crack cocaine in Trinidad and Tobago during a period of abstinence. The results revealed that the following:

  • Almost 90 percent of individuals reported drug-related dreams during the first month, mainly of using the drug.
  • Almost 61 percent had drug-related dreams after 6 months, mainly of using or refusing the drug.

Vision and hearing loss

When compared to sighted participants, people who have lost their vision completely experience fewer visual dream impressions.

When compared to sighted participants, people who have been blind since birth report having more auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory dream components.

The ability to see does not appear to have an impact on the emotional and thematic content of dreams.

Those who possess additional powers

One short study looked into the dream diaries of 14 people who had physical or mental problems.

Four people were born with paraplegia, while ten people were born deaf and unable to talk.

Deafness. Participants with deafness reported dreams that were similar to those of 36 able-bodied adults, and the data revealed that almost 80% of their dream reports contained no sign of their impairment.

Many people were able to communicate in their dreams, while others were able to hear and understand spoken language.

Paraplegia. In a similar vein, the dream reports of those who had paraplegia revealed that the participants frequently walked, ran, or swam in their dreams, activities that they had never done in their waking life.

A second study examined the dream reports of 15 people who were either born with paraplegia or developed it later in life as a result of a spinal-cord injury as part of their investigation.

In their reports, the researchers discovered that 14 participants with paraplegia had dreams in which they were physically active, and that they dreamed about walking as frequently as the 15 control participants who did not have paraplegia, according to the findings.

In other studies, it has been hypothesised that the brain possesses the genetically determined potential to generate experiences that are lifelike, including the ability to move and sense in a completely functional manner.

People who are born deaf or unable to move are likely to be tapping into these portions of their brains when they dream about things they are unable to complete while awake, according to research.



Obianuju Chukwu

She has a degree in pharmacy and has worked in the field as a pharmacist in a hospital. Teaching, blogging, and producing scientific articles are some of her interests. She enjoys writing on various topics relating to health and medicine, including health and beauty-related natural treatments, the nutritional worth of various foods, and mental wellness.