The meaning of dreams has puzzled man since time immemorial. In ancient civilisations they were thought to carry a message from God. With his psychoanalysis, it was Sigmund Freud who opened the door for dreams to become a subject of scientific research.
We have our most vivid dreams during a type of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
During REM sleep the brain is very active, the eyes move back and forth rapidly under the lids, and the large muscles of the body are relaxed. REM sleep occurs every 90 – 100 minutes and is believed to be triggered by electric signals which travel from the base of the brain to into the higher brain where they activate the billions of brain cells that store all our memories of sights, sounds and sensations. Our brain then tries to synthesise these bizarre, unrelated images to make sense of them – this is a dream.
The meaning of dreams has puzzled man since time immemorial. In ancient civilisations they were thought to carry a message from God. With his psychoanalysis, it was Sigmund Freud who opened the door for dreams to become a subject of scientific research. He included interpretation of dreams in psychoanalysis alongside hypnosis and other techniques.
Indeed for Freud, dreams provided the key to a theoretical understanding of the subconscious. One century later, scientists still debate whether dreams have any real meaning or not. At the end of the day, how much or how little meaning you give to your dreams is up to you.
A nightmare differentiates itself from a normal dream due to its frightening and/or emotional content. We tend to wake up in fear in the midst of a nightmare, and its images or ‘mood’ can have a big impact upon our waking mind all day. Nightmares can be rooted in past neglect and trauma from childhood. In general, stress, trauma, fears, insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and health or relationship problems may all be reasons for having nightmares.
Dream therapy is becoming increasingly popular, especially for the victims of post-traumatic stress disorder who are often plagued by recurrent nightmares. They can use lucid dreaming – dreams in which we are aware of the fact that we are dreaming – to ‘control’ their dream lives and to shift the nature of their dreams entirely. Dr Barry Brakow at the Sleep and Human Health Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, looked at a group of 168 women, most of whom had suffered a rape or serious sexual assault and coached them in ‘dream therapy’. Thanks to mentally rehearsing a new more pleasant nightmare every day, many of them showed significant improvements in both their dream and wakeful lives.
Dreams come true
There are numerous examples of dreams that appeared to predict future events. Some may have been due to pure coincidence, faulty memory, or an unconscious tying together of known information. Some laboratory studies of predictive dreams have been carried out, as well as clairvoyant and telepathic dreams, but the results have tended to be varied and inconclusive. One notorious example occurred in 1865 when, in a dream, he saw his own corpse in a coffin in the White House, and was informed that the president had been killed. One week later Lincoln was assassinated.
We all at one time or another dream of falling, of being pursued or attacked, of repeatedly trying to finish a particular task, or having a romantic encounter with an acquaintance. Some dream experts believe that there are typical or archetypal dreams and dream elements that persist across different persons, cultures, and times. However, the same image or symbol will have different meanings for different people. This is why books – often referred to as ‘dream dictionaries’ which give a fixed meaning to a specific dream image or symbol are not particularly helpful. A dream reflects your own thoughts and feelings, and every element or emotion in your dream is personal to you.
We spend a quarter of our sleeping hours dreaming which means 100,000 dreams in a lifetime or 5 solid years of dreaming!
One sleep cycle comprises of four stages and last for about 90-120 minutes. Dreams can occur in any of the four stages of sleep but the most vivid and memorable dreams occur in the last stage of sleep (also commonly referred to as REM sleep).
The sleep cycle repeats itself about an average of four to five times per night, but may repeat as many as seven times. Thus, you can have several different dreams in one night.
We dream on average of one or two hours every night, and we can have 4-7 dreams in one night. The word dream stems from the Middle English word, ‘dreme’ which means ‘joy’ and ‘music’.
Nightmares are common in children, typically beginning at around the age of three and occurring up to the age of seven or eight