What Do Dreams Really Mean and Should You Even Care?
Are dreams just drivel?
How often have you woken up from a strange dream and thought “what was that trying to tell me”?
You might head to Google and look for advice on what your night-time visions meant, where you’ll probably find that dreaming about teeth is telling you that you’re anxious and lack confidence while walking in a forest suggests that you’re lost. Falling supposedly means you have no self-control, and being chased signifies fear.
Reading this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the brain is a bit of a bully, sending us disturbing, messages to remind us of personality shortcomings of which we’re no doubt already aware. Bizarrely, one of the more positive things to dream about appears to be dead, which many analysts say is a sign of change, fresh starts, and newfound independence.
Are our subconscious minds really this mean, though? Do they need to traumatize us with visions of dying just to tell us that we’re on to something new?
Why Do We Dream?
The reason we dream remains largely a mystery. We do know that REM sleep plays a role in forming memories. As we sleep, our brains churn through the new experiences from the day prior, trying to sort out which to remember and which to forget.
REM sleep likely also plays a role in forgetting. If our brains held on to every little bit of information from the day, we would be bogged down by too many unimportant memories.
Sleep helps clear the clutter. It’s why you likely don’t remember what you ate for dinner five nights ago.
But that other big question remains. Can you ‘interpret’ dreams? Do they have a meaning? Or are they really just a load of rubbish (literally, if you go with the notion that the brain is discarding information)
The majority of people do believe that dreams are “portals to the unconscious”, at least in the U.S. In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that more than half of Westerners are of this opinion. The research was also carried out among Indians and South Koreans, with an even larger proportion (74% and 65% respectively) believing that dreams are trying to tell us something.
Of course, good old Sigmund Freud is largely responsible for this. His 1900 book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ remains a go-to publication for scholars of psychology, and Freud’s work has crept into many art and literature degrees too. His idea of ‘wish fulfillment’ drew a useful comparison between visions during sleep and what’s on the mind, moving on from earlier ideas of dreams being messages from deities or a result of the soul leaving the body.
Many people also believe that the worse you sleep, the weirder you dream. The most strange and nightmarish visions are usually the result of an overly active mind and a disturbed sleep. By sticking to a schedule, getting a sensible amount of sleep, having a quality bed, and keeping technology to a minimum in the bedroom, – and using simple sleep aids if you need them – your mind is less likely to rebel as your body recharges.