A It’s most likely that everyone dreams every night, but do our dreams mean anything or have any purpose?
B Most people have 4 to 7 dreams a night in a stage of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) which lasts for 10 to 30 minutes and happens 4 or 5 times a night. There are a few people who have no memory of dreaming when they wake up, but it’s unclear whether they didn’t dream or just don’t remember; you’ll often only remember what you dreamed about if you wake up while you’re dreaming and then think about what happened in the dream.
C Whether our dreams have any meaning has been an area of interest for many years. In his 1899 book, Sigmund Freud proposed that they can tell us about our unconscious wishes. He believed that some of our desires, especially our aggressive and sexual desires, are so powerful that we repress them and they come out in disguise in our dreams.1 His colleague Carl Jung also believed that dreams come from the unconscious but not only from our wishes; Jung believed that they could represent other parts of a person that aren’t being expressed in waking life.2 These theories are less popular these days, however, as they’re not very scientific.
D Modern dream analysis also isn’t very scientific, but, if you look online, you’ll find some interesting interpretations of some of our more common dreams. For example, falling dreams might mean that you’re feeling anxious or out of control, being chased could mean that you’re running away from a problem, and flying might indicate that you’re feeling powerful. These interpretations might contain some truth, but there is little scientific evidence for any of this. However, some experts do believe that our dreams can tell us something about how we are feeling and allow us to experience emotions that we aren’t experiencing in waking life
E When it comes to whether dreaming has any purpose, there is also disagreement, but there are some theories about this that are more supported by science. One of these is the information processing theory. This is the idea that when we are dreaming, our brains are sifting through all the information we have taken in during the day and helping us to organise and keep what is important in our memories and forget what is unimportant. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker adds that dreams also help us with creativity and problem solving by finding connections between things that may not be obvious to us when we are awake.
F Walker also believes that dreaming helps with emotional well-being. He explains that our dreams often feature difficult emotions that we have experienced during the day, and, when they do, they are helping us to process these emotions. Dreams take some of the emotional pain out of these difficult experiences and help us to make sense of them by integrating them with our other memories, which means we wake feeling better the next morning. He says that when you recall difficult experiences from your childhood, most of the painful emotions will have gone as dreams have helped you with this.
G Another function that REM sleep serves is helping us to understand what other people are feeling and communicating, according to Walker. In any interaction with somebody, a lot of information is communicated by facial expressions, and REM sleep readjusts our brains every night, so that they can decode these expressions and understand other people’s feelings. He adds that people who are deprived of REM sleep become more fearful of faces, even friendly ones.
H It’s difficult to know for sure what our dreams mean or if they have any meaning at all, but it seems like they might be helping us in important ways. So, sweet dreams; but remember, even if they’re not sweet, they might be helping you to manage difficult emotions and feel feelings that you need to feel.