Dreams… what do they mean?
I had two dreams last night. Both were weird, mostly because things that occurred in the dreams were not likely to happen in real life. Both dreams were weird, because one dream featured a person I never dreamed about, and the other featured someone I used to dream often about. Both dreams were weird, mainly because the happenings were absurd for me.
The first dream featured my dad…being a gay drag queen. See, my dad is a homophobe (yes, homophobes still exist at this day and age). So imagining a homophobe as a cross-dressing homosexual is weird enough. Now, imagine your straight dad as a cross-dressing homosexual. Out of this world, ‘no?
The second dream featured my ex-crush and I enjoying a day in the National Museum as if we were a couple. I never get dreams like this with my boyfriend, and I’m pretty sure I got over my ex-crush. So why do I still get dreams like this? Moreover, why do we get dreams?
Dreams, as described by Hannah Nichols in a Medical News Today article, is a phenomenon that is universally common among humans. Dreaming is “a state of consciousness characterized by sensory, cognitive and emotional occurrences during sleep”. Dreamers have little or no control of what happens in their dreams.
According to neuroscientists, there are five phases of sleep in a sleep cycle:
Phase 1 – “light sleep, eyes move slowly, and muscle activity slows.”
Phase 2 – “eye movement stops and brain waves (fluctuations of electrical activity that can be measured by electrodes) become slower, with occasional bursts of rapid waves called sleep spindles.”
Phase 3 – “extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves.”
Phase 4 – “the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called “deep sleep.” There is no eye movement or muscle activity. People awakened while in deep sleep do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after they wake up.”
Phase 5 – “REM – breathing becomes more rapider, irregular and shallow, eyes jerk rapidly in various directions, and limb muscles become temporarily paralyzed. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and males develop penile erections. When people awaken during REM sleep, they often describe bizarre and illogical tales – dreams.”
So, that is when dreams occur – when a sleep cycle is almost complete. No wonder my dreams have gaps in between.
Now, how about the people in our dreams? I often dream about the people I know, but I sometimes dream of people I don’t know, let alone people I haven’t seen.
Research done on 320 adult dream reports tells us that:
- 48% of characters represented a named person known to the dreamer
- 35% of characters were identified by their social role (e.g., policeman) or relationship to dreamer (e.g., a friend)
- 16% were not recognized.
Among named characters:
- 32% were identified by appearance
- 21% identified by behavior
- 45% by face
- 44% by “just knowing.”
“Some elements of bizarreness were reported in 14% of named and generic characters.”
There is another study that deals with the relationship of dream character identification and emotions in dreams. Feelings of joy and affection were commonly associated with known characters and “were used to identify them even when these emotional attributes were inconsistent with those of the waking state.” The findings also suggest that the part of the brain that is associated with short-term memory is less active while dreaming.
Since one’s short term memory is less active in dreaming, it’s more likely to dream about the past, whether it’s the wanted or forgotten and unwanted past.
“A study showed that sleep does not benefit the forgetting of unwanted memories. Instead, REM sleep might even counteract the voluntary suppression of memories, making them more accessible for retrieval.”
Two types of temporal effects characterize the incorporation of memories into dreams:
- “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 results of one study are constant with the possibility that “processing memories into dream incorporation takes a cycle of around 7 days, and that these processes help to further the functions of socio-emotional adaptation and memory consolidation”.
“A recent study aiming to explore autobiographical memories (long-lasting memories about the self) and episodic memories (memories about discrete episodes or events) within dream content amongst 32 participants found that:
- One dream (0.5%) contained an episodic memory
- The majority (80%) was found to contain low to moderate incorporations of autobiographical memory features.”
“Researchers suggest that memories for personal experiences are experienced fragmentarily and selectively during dreaming, perhaps in order to integrate these memories into the long-lasting autobiographical memory.“
So, dreams incorporate memories. But why do we dream in the first place? Do they just simply come in sleep cycles, or do they impart signs and messages?
Possible explanations for why we dream include:
- To represent unconscious desires and wishes
- To interpret random signals from the brain and body during sleep
- To consolidate and process information gathered during the day
- To work as a form of psychotherapy.
From new evidence and research, researchers speculate that dreaming:
- “Is offline memory reprocessing – consolidates learning and memory tasks.”
- “Is a subsystem of the waking default network, which is active during mind wandering and daydreaming. Dreaming could be seen as cognitive simulation of real life experiences.”
- “Participates in the development of cognitive capabilities.”
- “Is psychoanalytic; dreams are highly meaningful reflections of unconscious mental functioning.”
- “Is a unique state of consciousness that incorporates three temporal dimensions: experience of the present, processing of the past, and preparation for the future.”
- “Provides a psychological space where overwhelming, contradictory, or highly complex notions can be brought together by the dreaming ego that would be unsettling while awake. This process serves the need for psychological balance and equilibrium.”
So, dreaming in sleep is a good thing, just like dreaming our life dreams and goals. But what about nightmares?
A nightmare is an afflicting dream that commonly forces at least partial awakening. The dreamer may feel disturbing emotions in a nightmare, like anger, guilt, sadness or depression, but the most common feelings are fear and anxiety.
Bad dreams, or nightmares are common in both adults and children. They can be caused by:
- Emotional issues
- Medication or drug use
How do you decide if a dream is considered to be a “bad dream” or a “nightmare”? The content of 9,796 dream reports was collected, which exposed:
- “253 nightmares – frequently contained physical aggression, situations that were more bizarre and more emotionally intense, containing more failures and unfortunate endings. 35% of nightmares contained primary emotions other than fear.”
- “431 bad dreams – frequently contained interpersonal conflicts. 55% of bad dreams contained primary emotions other than fear.”
Bad dreams occur more often that nightmares, but both give us fear upon waking up. Bad dreams and nightmares can be associated with the environment and life events of the dreamer. It’s pretty much the same as regular dreaming. But the more scary and depressing experiences you have, the more chances of having nightmares and bad dreams will happen.
Our daily lives affect our dreaming, that’s for sure. Our dreaming can affect our daily lives, too. Dreams can mean many things, but don’t let dreams affect you too much. It can make or break your day.
To get to know more about dreaming, you can read the rest of the article here: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284378.php#what_are_dreams.