While dreams are very personal to the individual, there are some common themes that many of us will recognise, from dreaming of snakes, being pregnant, being late for an important event, or our teeth falling out - which are all just some of the reoccurring themes. So, what, if anything, do dreams mean?
Why do we dream?
Dreaming occurs within the specific REM stage of the sleep cycle. The main theories behind why we dream point to the processing of information and memories, and providing essential services to overall brain function
Do dreams mean anything?
Sometimes we dream about something that just happened, or something we experienced in the past, like our brain is perusing a chapter from a book in a library. Countless people report premonitions or warnings of future events in their dreams… can science explain this phenomenon? There are a number of psychological theories about dreams that hold the most currency.
Proposed by Harvard University psychiatrists, John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, the activation-synthesis states that brain activation in the REM sleep stage results in dream creation, which is part of the development and maintenance of waking consciousness, and that dreaming is a preconscious state.
Freud and wish fulfilment:
Sigmund Freud’s famous theory posits that dreams are connected to our subconscious and reveal unconscious or repressed conflicts and desires. Daydreaming about winning the lottery is a conscious dream, however, when asleep, dreams can tap into thoughts or ideas we may not have articulated.
Threat simulation theory:
The threat simulation theory comes from a group of scientists who studied the dreams of traumatised Kurdish children versus non-traumatised Finnish children and proposes that dream consciousness is essentially an ancient biological defence mechanism that allows us to rehearse threatening events. Like a fairytale might warn us about the big bad wolf, dreams allow us to practice running away from danger.
The most common dreams people have and what they might mean?
Dreams are linked to our emotions, which is why we may also recall stressful events, real or imagined. Keeping a journal may help us to better understand why we are having particular dreams and if to link them to our current situation. Tracking sleep with the Simba Sleep Coach may help to link certain factors, like food or alcohol intake, with our dream patterns. Below are common themes, and some suggestions as to the dream interpretations.
Dreams about flying might signify overcoming obstacles, freedom and control over a situation in life, or a desire to escape something.
Falling is a common physical sensation that we can experience on the edge of sleep. It can also signify anxiety or insecurity around a certain situation, or that you’re not doing as well as you hoped.
Teeth falling out
Losing teeth, where they crumble or fall out one by one, can be related to worries over our physical appearance, lack of confidence, ability to clearly communicate or financial insecurity.
Being chased by something or someone
Running away from a threat usually relates to something in your life that is causing anxiety - or that horror movie that you watched recently.
Being unable to find a toilet
This can signify feeling insecure about letting something go, while hoping to be free from it at the same time, or that you seek privacy in your waking life.
Crashing a car
Feeling out of control can mean that we don’t feel that our life is on the right track.
Lateness can mean that you are anxious about taking a different direction in life, or more literally, that you need to be up for a significant event the next day.
Snakes are said to be linked to feeling constricted, oppressed or paralysed.
Being naked in public or an inappropriate place
Being naked usually indicates feelings of insecurity, embarrassment, or vulnerability and revealing or having revealed a weakness or secret or being judged by others.
Missing or failing an exam
A common dream that can still occur long after you’ve left education, failing an exam reveals that we feel underprepared in real life or insecure about our ability to pass.
Cheating on a partner
Cheating can suggest an unmet need in your relationship which can relate to emotional or sexual dissatisfaction, or unresolved feelings about the person you’re cheating with.
If it’s not someone you know who has passed, a ghost can mean that something is haunting you, or you have unfinished business. It can also represent fear of the unknown, or a vulnerable emotional state.
Pregnancy refers to a personal growth phase, new ideas and plans in the works.
Dreams about death can relate to a change or ending that’s happening in life, it can also be a way of processing fear about losing a loved one.
What are the benefits of dreaming?
REM sleep can help to reduce the emotions around our memories, so that when something bad happens, dreaming about it can gradually decrease our emotional response as part of a healing or grieving process. It can help consolidate memories, give us inspiration and ideas for our lives and help reduce depression.
What is lucid dreaming and is it good for you?
Lucid dreams are when you’re aware that you are dreaming, and you might be able to influence your actions or other elements. Some studies suggest that on the plus side, lucid dreams can reduce anxiety, improve motor skills and problem solving, and boost creativity. On the negative side, they may impact sleep quality, and cause confusion, delirium or hallucinations.