By Jennifer Seigworth
Scientists say that everyone dreams. We may or may not remember our dreams, but during certain stages of sleep, our mind takes us on adventures. Sometimes, they are wonderful and wild adventures; sometimes emotional or enlightening adventures. Other times they are very strange or absolute nightmares. Either way, I find it very interesting how our minds work while we sleep. I hope you will too.
Now, some people believe that our dreams are spiritualistic and mean something is going to happen or someone that is no longer with us is trying to tell us something. I am not qualified to give answers for that, and we all have our own beliefs-but I can tell you the scientific, psychological theories behind our dreams.
When we reach the optimal dream stage of sleep, called REM (rapid eye movement), our minds begin to dream more vividly. The body will react differently than when experiencing the other three stages of sleep. As it is called REM sleep, the eyes will move back and forth and the pulse and breathing will increase, but the body is more relaxed and immobile. The amygdala (emotional center of your brain) is most active during dreams.
While there are multitudes of dream studies, nobody can definitively say what dreams consist of. However, when looking at the evidence that has been gathered, it is agreed upon that they consist of the dreamer’s thoughts. These thoughts are related to emotions, events, struggles or places that may or may not be significant to the person. The relevance of certain people, places or events in dreams may not even be understood by the dreamer.
Several dream theories state that the purpose of dreams is to help with memory formation, problem solving, and consolidation of ideas or views of ourselves and others. That’s why the age-old advice of, “sleep on it” when trying to make a decision or learn something new truly makes sense. Unfortunately, many of us try to think on it while we should actually be sleeping on it, keeping ourselves up all night.
Neuroscientists have actually found that information processing during dreams can also help in mood regulation. Of course, helping a person to think through thoughts and emotions during dreams and while awake can have excellent benefits for overall well-being. Even more reason to find a way to get our precious sleep!
Now, all of this is interesting- but not as fun as some of the theories of symbolism of dreams. There are many theories about what people, events, items or feelings represent in our dreams. A dream researcher, Eric Fromm, determined that there are three main categories of symbols in our dreams: conventional (symbols with learned association to words), accidental (personal to the dreamer), and universal (ex: water or fire). Each category is still relative to the dreamer, though. Fromm states that water could mean overwhelming events to one person, while representing the flow of energy and life to another.
So, with as much research has been done on dreaming, it is still a mystery. When researching dream analysis, it is easy to get swept down the rabbit hole and end up in Wonderland. Stay true to finding positive and logical information. Of course dreams carry intense emotion (amygdala activated) so we may spend time in our dreams with people or pets that we miss greatly. If these types of dreams help to make you live happier and feel more whole, then it is a purpose well served. Do not give as much regard to nightmares, because my mother still says that happens when you ate something spicy too close to going to bed. And of all theorists that I know- she is the only one that always ends up being right!