Dreams have the potential to reveal ourselves to ourselves.
Many people believe dreams are random sequences of images that just give us a recount of familiar people and situations from the previous day, but dreams carry important messages for those that dig into its meaningful content.
What Are Dreams?
We spend about a quarter of our sleeping time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and experience approximately 80% of our dreams during this time. Our dream frequency and intensity are much higher in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. However, we often sacrifice the important dream content because we have to wake up early for work and not reflecting on the symbolic content the dream provides.
In mental illness like anxiety or depressive disorders, nightmares can be a frequent occurrence that can lead to strange, frightening, or stressful dreams. In sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia, dreams can be altered as well, leading to bizarre and negative dreams. Approximately 10% of adults report frequent or recurring episodes.
The modern understanding of why and how we dream is debated, with some scientists believing memory processing or emotional regulation is the primary reason we dream, aiding in the consolidation of learning and the movement of short-term memory to long term memory.
One mechanism that is currently being studied is that REM sleep facilitates creative problem solving through the processing of prior experience. During sleep, the cortex is busy filtering out useless memories in favour of useful ones such that stronger emotionally-charged experiences help consolidate long term memories.
The Transformational Power of Dreams
However, as a matter of subjective experience, dreams are an important piece of therapeutic engagement and have the capacity to reveal the unconscious workings of the mind. Freud once said dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, for they have the potential to reveal a larger perspective to the narrow confines of the conscious ego.
Creative types are more likely to pay attention to their dreams and inspire their creative processes through dream content, but everybody can benefit from delving into their dreams to recognise new paths and strategies for healing and understanding.
Dreams have the power to reveal attitudes that we may be repressing or aspects of ourselves that we may have overlooked. The meaningful content expressed in the dream process is symbolic. This is one reason why it is helpful to keep a dream journal or use a tape recorder when analysing dream content. Dream imagery is often quickly forgotten upon waking, but training ourselves to immediately recall all of the pieces of the dream we can remember upon waking will result in more meaningful content and perhaps even lucid dreams.
Overall, dreams can give us great insight into what is preoccupying us emotionally, engaging both our thoughts and emotions. While often mysterious and fantastical, dreams can both shape us and show us who we are by representing and guiding us towards important thoughts and feelings.
To help with remembering your dreams, you can:
- Consciously prime yourself for dreams by telling yourself you want to dream about something specific. The dream content will often reflect what you want to explore.
- Immediately upon waking, record the dream either by writing it down or using a tape recorder.
- Limit your alcohol and stimulant use before bed. Sedatives can reduce REM sleep where dream production is most rich and intense.
- Sleep 7-9 hours to ensure you get maximum REM sleep. Most REM sleep will occur in the early morning hours, usually in short episodes lasting approximately ninety minutes.
- Try meditating before bed. Regular mindfulness meditation is associated with enhanced REM sleep.
- Practice patience. Dream recall is a skill and you may not remember them right away, but over time you might find yourself recalling entire storylines with rich imagery.