Common Questions About Dreams
Does everyone dream?
- Yes. Laboratory studies have shown that we experience 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, 3-4 times a night, and lasts longer as the night progresses. The final REM period may last as long as 45 minutes. Less vivid dreams occur at other times during the night.
Why do people have trouble remembering their dreams?
- Some people have no difficulty in remembering several dreams nightly, although others recall only occasional ones or none at all. Nearly everything that happens during sleep - including dreams, the thoughts which occur throughout the night and memories of brief awakenings - is forgotten by morning. There is something about the phenomenon of sleep itself which makes it difficult to remember what has occurred and most dreams are forgotten unless they are written down. Sometimes a dream is suddenly remembered later in the day or on another day, suggesting that the memory is not totally lost but for some reason is very hard to retrieve. Sleep and dreams are also affected by a great variety of drugs and medications, including alcohol. Further, stopping certain medications suddenly may cause nightmares. It is advisable to discuss with your physician the effect of any drugs or medications you are taking.
Are dreams in color?
- Most dreams are in color, although people may not be aware of it, either because they have difficulty remembering their dreams or because color is such a natural part of visual experience. People who are very aware of color while awake probably notice color more often in their dreams.
How can I improve my dream memory?
- Before you fall asleep, remind yourself that you want to remember your dreams. Keep a paper and pen or tape-recorder by your bedside. As you awaken, try to move as little as possible and try not to think right away about your upcoming day. Write down all of your dreams and images, as they can fade quickly if not recorded. Any distractions will cause the memory of your dream to fade. If you can't remember a full dream, record the last thing that was on your mind before awakening, even if you have only a vague memory of it.
Do dreams have meaning?
- Although scientists continue to debate this issue, most people who work with their dreams, either by themselves or with others, find that their dreams are very meaningful for them. Dreams are useful In learning more about the dreamer's feelings, thoughts, behavior, motives and values. Many find that dreams can help them solve problems. Further, artists, writers and scientists often get creative ideas from them.
How can I learn to interpret my dreams?
- The most important thing to keep in mind is that your dreams reflect your own underlying thoughts and feelings, and that the people, actions, settings and emotions in your dreams are personal to you. Some dream experts theorize that there are typical or archetypal dreams and dream elements that persist across different persons, cultures, and times. Usually, however, the same image or symbol will have different meanings for different people. For example, an elephant in a dream can mean one thing to a zoo keeper and something quite different to a child whose favorite toy is a stuffed elephant. Therefore books which give a specific meaning for a specific dream image or symbol, or 'dream dictionaries', are not usually helpful. By thinking about what each dream element means to you or reminds you of, by looking for parallels between these associations and what is happening in your waking life, and by being patient and persistent you can learn to understand your dreams. It can be helpful to keep a dream diary and reflect on many dreams over a long period of time to get the truest picture of your unique dream life. There are many good books that can help you get started interpreting your dreams. (Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to IASD for a list of books recommended by members if your local bookstore cannot help.)
What does it mean when I have the same dream over and over?
- Recurrent dreams, which can continue for years, may be treated as any other dream. That is. one may look for parallels between the dream and the thoughts, feelings, behavior and motives of the dreamer. Understanding the meaning of the recurrent dream can sometimes help the dreamer resolve an issue that he or she has been struggling with for years.
Is it normal to have nightmares?
- Nightmares are very common among children and fairly common among adults. Often nightmares are caused by stress, traumatic experiences, emotional difficulties, drugs or medication, or illness. However, some people have frequent nightmares that seem unrelated to their waking lives. Recent studies suggest that these people tend to be more open, sensitive, trusting and emotional than average. (For a detailed flyer on nightmares, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to IASD. You may also click here for information on nightmares)
Is it true that if you dream that you die or that you hit bottom in a falling dream, you will in fact die in your sleep?
- No, these beliefs are not true. Many people have dreamed that they died or hit bottom in a fall and they have lived to tell the tale! You can explore the meaning of these kinds of images just as you would explore any others that might occur in your dreams. However, if any aspect of your dreams worries or distresses you, talk to a professional mental health practitioner about your concerns.
Can dreams predict the future?
- There are many examples of dreams that seemed to predict future events. Some may have been due to coincidence, faulty memory, or an unconscious tying together of known information. A few laboratory studies have been conducted of predictive dreams, as well as clairvoyant and telepathic dreams, but the results were varied as these kinds of dreams are difficult to study in a laboratory setting.
Is it possible to control dreams?
- You can often influence your dreams by giving yourself pre-sleep suggestions. Another method of influencing dreams is called lucid dreaming, in which you are aware you are dreaming while still asleep and in the dream. Sometimes people experience this type of dreaming spontaneously. It is often possible to learn how to increase lucid dreaming, and thereby increase your capacity to affect the course of the dream events as they unfold. Some things are easier than others to control, and indeed complete control is probably never possible. Some professional dream workers question the advisability of trying to control the dream, and encourage learning to enjoy and understand it instead.