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What are Dreams?

Merriam-Webster defines a dream as “a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep.”  Psychology Today goes deeper, telling us, “Dreams are the stories the brain tells during sleep—they’re a collection of clips, images, feelings, and memories that involuntarily occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of slumber. Humans typically have multiple dreams per night that grow longer as sleep draws to a close. It’s hypothesized that everyone dreams, but a small subsection of the population reports that they never remember experiencing dreams.”

What effect does Dreaming have on my sleep and my health?

Dreams typically involve elements from waking lives—like known people or familiar locations—but they often take on a fantastical feel. While dreams are frequently interesting, and can allow people to act out certain scenarios that would never be possible in real life, they aren’t always positive—negative dreams, referred to as ‘nightmares,’ can create feelings of terror, anxiety, or utter despair, and can lead to psychological distress or sleep problems like insomnia.”

The National Sleep Foundation reports that, although you may feel down when you wake from a bad dream or happy when you wake from a good dream, those dreams do not necessarily have “a significant effect on your sleep architecture, meaning they won’t necessarily change how much time you spend in the different stages of sleep or the number of times you awaken.” They may affect, “How long it takes to fall asleep at night and how challenging it is for your body to switch between non-REM and REM stages of sleep, which may leave you feeling less rested.” Good sleepers seem to remember good dreams, while those with insomnia have less positive feelings about their dreams.

What do my Dreams mean?

Long since graduation, I continue to have the dream in which I cannot find the room in which my final exam is being held. I run from room to room, but cannot seem to locate the room or open the door.  An alternate is the dream in which I have a final for which I did not prepare or in a class I did not attend. Many friends have revealed the same or similar dreams.  An article in Time Magazine discussing the meaning of dreams addressed this type of dream, noting, “Another view of dreaming comes from cognitive neuroscientist Antti Revonsuo of Sweden’s University of Skövde, who has proposed what he calls the Threat Simulation Theory, arguing that the brain responds to potential future danger by running what amount to fire drills while we sleep just to keep us sharp. That may be the source of the persistent dream about failing to study for finals — with finals as a stand-in for a presentation you have to write for work in your adult life. Dreaming about losing some or all of your teeth — reported by a surprising number of respondents in studies — appears to be about anxiety over saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment. It may also be about bodily deterioration — something we all fear even in childhood.” 

Dreams can be productive and the inspiration for works of art.

Another study noted in the Time Magazine article reported, “A far more productive function of dreaming is problem-solving, as the sleeping brain continues to work on jobs the waking mind handled during the day. In one 2010 study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, 99 people were administered a task that required them to navigate through a three-dimensional maze. During the course of their practice sessions, they were given a 90-minute break. Some were asked to engage in quiet activities like reading; others were instructed to try to take a nap. Those who did nap and who happened to dream about the maze showed a ten-fold improvement on the task in the next session compared to the other subjects. Something similar happens when students are studying for a test and find they have a better mastery over the material after a night’s sleep, especially if they dreamed even indirectly about what they’d been learning.”

Dreams have also been the basis of inspiration for artists. Whether it is Singer/Songwriter Paul McCartney’s song “Yesterday” or Director Christopher Nolan’s thriller “Inception,” great ideas and works of art have been inspired by dreams. Carolyn Gregoire in the HuffPost discusses these and other dream-inspired works of art. Maybe our dreams hold inspiration we have not yet realized

Get Dreaming with Down Etc

At Down Etc, our goal is to provide a great night’s sleep so you can get to the business of dreaming. That means a comfortable and hygienic bed with the perfect pillow and sheets that fits the way you sleep. Take our Pillow Butler Pillow Quiz to help you select what will work for you.

Updated July 31, 2022

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