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Dreams: What They Mean and the Psychology Behind Them

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Imagine trying to fuzzily clutch at your dreams because you cannot really remember most of your dreams. But some dreams feel so real as if the exact same events are happening in your waking life. Moreover, they stay so distinct and indelible in your memory that you might feel you dreamed about them several times in a row. 

Did you know that the first recorded dreams date back to Mesopotamia, about 5,000 years ago, and were written down on pieces of slates made up of clay? People in the Roman and Greek eras held the notion that dreams might foretell the future and were messages conveyed by divine entities or departed individuals. It is believed that some cultures also engaged in the implantation of visions for having prophetic dreams.

What are dreams

So, what are dreams anyway? It is one of many ways how your body and your subconscious mind try to process all your emotions. According to scientists, dreams are a normal aspect of your life. They could be subliminal mind-generated images. Dream visuals can occasionally be strong, distinctly suggestive of something related to your real-life situations. 

Some of your dreams could be due to some kind of external stimulation. Such dreams seem more like illusions or hallucinations. For example, if you physically cannot withstand low temperatures on a chilly, windy day. You might possibly dream of being trapped in ice-cold water, trying to struggle to get out of it. And eventually, survive. 

Some of your dreams can also be a result of a variety of internal impulses, such as an artistic pulse. They are predominantly the products of your imaginative and creative brains. The process involves purging out your unimportant memories and retaining the important ones.

When do you experience dreams?

The majority of the dreams you experience happen to you during your REM sleep cycle when your brain is super active and functions the absolute best when it comes to analyzing all kinds of emotions – simple or complex.

Dreams primarily happen during the REM (rapid eye movement) period of sleep. This is when neural activity is highest and creates an illusion that you are awake since the intensity of activities during the REM stage is the same as that when you are fully awake. 

REM sleep can occur during other sleep phases. REM sleep is distinguished from other sleep stages by the continual eye movements that occur during sleep. However, these dreams are often forgotten easily as they are significantly less vivid.

The duration of our dreams varies; they could be brief, or they could last for minutes – up to 20 or 30. Some of you can remember your dreams because you were awakened while you were still in the REM stage of sleep. Each night, the average person has between three and five dreams.

Dreams are now widely regarded as a conduit to the collective unconscious. These can be of many different kinds, capturing and emphasizing a wide range of emotions. Some of these emotions are fear, passion, thrill, misery, etc. 

The dreams can be typical and everyday or weird and totally surreal. The things that happen in our dreams mostly happen without our influence, with the possible exception of lucid dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer is conscious of themselves. Sometimes a creative idea might be implanted into a dream, inspiring the dreamer.

Scientific interpretations

With time, perspectives on the significance of dreams have evolved and fluctuated across cultures. Nevertheless, the Freudian hypothesis of dreams, according to which dreams disclose suppressed emotions and wants, appears to be largely accepted.

Sigmund Freud published a lot about the theory of dreams and how to interpret them in the early 20th century. He said that dreams were frequently sexual, in essence, expressions of suppressed tensions or desires. Moreover, he thought that essentially every dream theme, regardless of its subject matter, stood for the release of sexual frustration. According to him, dreams are an expression of our innermost feelings and aspirations, regularly associated with suppressed past trauma or emotions. 

Another of Sigmund Freud’s books written in 1899, Interpretation of Dreams, highlighted a psychological method he came up with for interpreting dreams. Based on his intense research, he developed a set of principles for the perfect comprehension of the themes and symbols that show up in our dreams.

Carl Jung gave another more comprehensive connotation. He described dreams as a kind of “formed energy,” unarticulated feelings or concepts that crop up from the subconscious. And are then incorporated into narratives by higher brain regions. 

Bonus read: you should definitely not miss reading this if you want an in-depth study of Carl Jung’s hypothesis and know more about Psychological Alchemy.

Modern psychologists and neurologists used many advanced imaging tools like MRIs and PET scans to understand the technicalities associated with dreams and dreaming. Based on their comprehensive studies, they suggest that dreaming is the brain’s method of getting rid of unnecessary information, organizing crucial knowledge, keeping us vigilant to danger, and more.

A sleep disorder known as REM behaviour disorder affects certain people, causing them to physically enact their dreams while they are asleep (RBD). Performing such actions or living your dreams literally can put the dreamer in danger. Sometimes the people around such dreamers are also at risk in such cases. 


I hope the article was useful and helped you understand the meaning of dreams along with the psychological explanations for causing them. If you have any questions or interesting theories to add to this, the comments section is open for discussion.

Adam Mulligan did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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