Some people remember vivid dreams; some swear they cannot remember dreaming at all. Some dream in black and white; most people dream in color. However, one thing is for sure, everyone dreams. From the time we are babies until the day we die, our minds constantly produce dreams while our bodies and brains are at rest. But, what exactly are dreams, and why do we have them?
Dreaming is a symbolic language designed to communicate your inner wisdom to you while you are asleep. The part of your subconscious that processes dreams -- your dream self -- sends messages as symbols and images, which in turn conveys ideas or situations in a visual language.
While many agree about what dreams are, there is still debate over why we actually dream. Most experts believe we dream to assist the body with rest, repair and rejuvenation. Others speculate that we dream for psychological reasons: to reexamine the day's events, to reduce and relieve stress, and to provide an outlet for pent-up emotions. Keep reading to see the five most widely accepted reasons why we dream.
Although we might have fantastical dreams of flying, or getting pleasantly lost in a land called Oz, these resplendent reveries really are not as abstract as one might think. Famed psychologist Carl Jung believed that even our most fanciful dreams are methods of compensation for events that occur in our waking lives. For example, a person who experiences unhappiness in their waking life may have fantastically blissful dreams as compensation, so their spirits won't plummet into complete despair. On the other hand, a person who is largely successful may also have dreams of failure or defeat to compensate for feelings of invincibility and power.
Jung also suggests that dreams may also reflect underdeveloped parts of our personalities. This may explain the reason why the dream behavior of some people is markedly different from the actions and conditions in their waking lives.
When dealing with stressful situations, your dreams become markedly different, and sometimes reflect your inner feelings. By displaying significant symbols and issues relating to your waking life, your dreams are trying to establish relevance as an effort to cope with your inner turmoil.
Psychiatry professor Ernest Hartmann, M.D. suggests that dreams are directed by particular emotions, like stress and worry. Varying emotions cause new material to be constantly "weaved" into the memory of the dreamer in ways that help him or her cope with stress, trauma and other types of psychological anxiety.
Information Processing and Memory
Research already supports the claim that sleep is fundamental to a well functioning mind and memory. However, some suggest that the key to memory consolidation lies not within a few hours of rest, but in the dreams we have instead.
Most dreams incorporate recent events and occurrences we've experienced. Perhaps you dreamt of that traffic accident you saw last week, or you might have reflected on your weekly trip to the grocery store. These kinds of dreams might actually be your brain processing and organizing the conscious and unconscious stimuli it receives throughout the day. After your daily memories have been consolidated by your dreams, your brain gets a chance to refresh itself, in a sense; dreams are the brain's way of "rebooting the system."
If you're puzzled over a particularly perplexing conundrum, the last thing you'll want to do is lose sleep over it. In fact, you just might want to get more. We already know the positive effects of sleep and dreams on memory, but dreams can also help us tackle everyday problems in life.
When approached with obstacles, we primarily pull on information we already know -- our memories -- to resolve them. This makes dreaming especially helpful because it helps organize and consolidate memories, making it easier to access when we're problem solving. Some scientists also propose that while we sleep, our brains continue to process issues of concern in our waking lives and constantly attempt to come up with answers and solutions. So if you're facing a particularly difficult quandary, go ahead and sleep on it. It might actually help.
Have you ever noticed that your dreams always involve you? Don't worry; dreams are naturally egocentric because they typically reflect one of your deep desires or concerns. In Sigmund Freud's influential book, The Interpretation of Dreams, he suggests that dreams are the direct result of repressed emotions and they might represent unconscious thoughts, wishes or desires.
In dreams, your subconscious can uncover the wishes that your conscious mind has learned to repress. Maybe that dream about you driving a racecar made of cheese wasn't so foolish after all; it could just be your subconscious desire to be the best NASCAR driver ever sponsored by Kraft.
Adapted from 500 Dreams Interpreted, © 2009 Publications International, Ltd.
If you're aware you're dreaming and you face certain death, does the real you die when the dream you does? Find out if lucid dreams can kill.
- Rosen, M.D., Dennis. "Why we dream (and what happens when we do)?" May 31, 2009. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleeping-angels/200905/why-we-dream-and-what-happens-when-we-do
- Leibowitz, Wanda. "Problem Solving in Your Sleep and Dreams." October 20, 2006. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/72672/problem_solving_in_your_sleep_and_dreams.html