Our loved ones wish us ‘sweet dreams’ before we lay down to sleep for the night. Songs have been written about our fascination with dreaming, and poetry has been inspired by it. Despite all of our interest in dreaming, so much about dreams, why they happen and what their purpose is remains unknown. However, we’re learning more all the time.
1) Dream interpretation has taken place since before 800 BC
Many wise folk across the ages have pondered what dreams are and have come up with some pretty compelling and thought-provoking theories.
Aristotle believed that dreams are related to our general health and should be used to diagnose and treat ailments. The ancient Greeks and Romans thought of dreams as communication from the Gods or dead people. Sigmund Freud was convinced that our dreams reveal our suppressed or unconscious desires. Carl Jung told us that dreams are messages to be closely heeded – that they hold the solution to our emotional problems or fears. Some dream psychologists of present day have even suggested that dreams may serve as a “threat simulation” or rehearsal for a particular experience.
2) People study dreams professionally
Oneirology is the scientific study of dreams as opposed to dream interpretation which has little or no scientific credibility. Scientists in this field have credited REM sleep for memory consolidation and processing of stress and emotionally disturbing experiences. One could hypothesize that it is this connection between emotional consolidation and REM sleep that produces the strong emotional responses we experience in our dreams.
3) You dream throughout the night – not just REM (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep)
It is a common misperception that dreaming is exclusive to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. For most of the twentieth century this was thought to be the case, but we now know that dreaming can be a continuous process across all stages of sleep. However, dreams tend to be more vivid and memorable during REM. You can learn more about REM & other sleep stages in our article Sleep Re-Cycling.
4) Just because you don’t remember them, if does not mean you don’t dream.
Dreams are not always remembered. We are more likely to recall the more bizarre, disturbing or frightening dreams which commonly occur during the longer REM periods towards morning. We are also more likely to be aware of dreams if we wake from REM sleep. If we progress into another stage of sleep before waking, the dream is less likely to be remembered. According to Freud, our failure to remember dreams is a self-protective response. Our wakeful self would be mortally ashamed of our antics during sleep so our moral filter wipes the content best forgotten!
5) Food & medications can affect your dreams
Sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea can trigger nightmares – often ones related to drowning or being short of breath. If you experience frequent disturbing dreams and are a known snorer, it might be worth considering a sleep study.
Some medications can cause bizarre or disturbing dreams. These include Champix used to help quit smoking, beta blockers used for high blood pressure and heart failure and amphetamines taken for ADHD or narcolepsy. Use of recreational drugs can also have a profound effect on dreams. It is commonly believed that particular food can influence our dreams but there is no evidence to support or discredit this theory. Certainly cheese and spicy food can cause a gastric disturbance so perhaps subsequent nightmares are a message from our distressed digestive system?
6) Dreams can temporarily paralyse you
Sleep paralysis, as it is commonly known, is a natural protection mechanism of the brain that prevents you from acting out your dreams. Sometimes the paralysis lingers after waking and can cause considerable panic. If you regularly experience sleep paralysis or if it is accompanied by hallucinations and/or daytime sleepiness, it is advisable to see your GP about a consultation with a Sleep Physician.
There is still so much we have to learn about dreams and the role they play in maintaining our mental health. Whether you remember your dreams or not, the most important thing is that you wake feeling rested and refreshed. If you feel like your dreams jolt you awake or are inhibiting restful sleep, feel free to drop us a line.