Why do we dream? (Psychologically)

What does it mean when we dream? (Psychologically)

Dreams are stories and images that our mind creates while we sleep. They can be entertaining, funny, romantic, haunting, scary, and sometimes very strange. why do we dream psychology

They are a source of continuing mystery for scientists and psychologists. Why do we dream? What is the cause of dreams? Can we control them? What is its meaning?

In this article we will explore the current theories, causes and applications of dreams. why do we dream psychology

Basic facts about dreams why do we dream psychology

  • We may not remember dreaming, but it is believed that we all dream 3-6 times each night.
  • Each dream is believed to last between 5 and 20 minutes.
  • About 95% of dreams are forgotten when getting out of bed.
  • Dreaming can help you learn and develop long-term memories.
  • Blind people dream more with other sensory components compared to sighted people.

Causes why do we dream psychology

There are several theories about why we dream. Are dreams just part of the sleep cycle or do they serve some other purpose?

Possible explanations include:

  • represent unconscious desires and longings
  • interpret random signals from the brain and body during sleep
  • consolidate and process the information we collect during the day why do we dream psychology
  • they function as a form of psychotherapy

Thanks to evidence and new research methodologies, researchers speculate that dreaming fulfills the following functions:

  • offline memory reprocessing, when the brain consolidates learning and memory tasks and supports and records wakefulness
  • preparedness for possible future threats
  • cognitive simulation of real life experiences, since dreaming is a subsystem of the Default Neural Network (RND), the part of the mind active when we daydream
  • helps develop cognitive abilities
  • reflects the mental function of the unconscious in a psychoanalytic way
  • a unique state of consciousness that integrates the experience of the present, the processing of the past and the preparation for the future
  • a psychological space where the dreaming ego gathers overwhelming, contradictory or extremely complex notions, which would be unsettling when we are awake, thus satisfying the need for balance and psychological balance

Much is unknown about dreams. By their nature, they are difficult to study in a laboratory, but technology and new research techniques can help improve our understanding of dreams.

Sleep phases

There are five phases in a sleep cycle:

Phase 1 : light sleep, slow eye movement, and reduced muscle activity. This phase constitutes 4% to 5% of total sleep.

Phase 2 : Eye movement stops and brain waves slow down, with occasional bursts of fast waves called sleep spindles. This phase constitutes 45% to 55% of total sleep.

Phase 3 : Extremely slow brain waves called delta waves begin to appear, interspersed with smaller, faster waves. This phase occupies 4% to 6% of total sleep.

Phase 4 : The brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. It is difficult to wake someone up during stages 3 and 4, which together are referred to as “deep sleep.” There is no eye movement or muscle activity. People who wake up during deep sleep often feel disoriented for several minutes after waking up. This phase constitutes 12% to 15% of total sleep.

Phase 5 : This stage is known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Breathing becomes faster, more irregular and shallow, the eyes move rapidly in various directions, and the muscles of the extremities temporarily paralyze. Heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, and men develop penile erections. When people wake up during REM sleep, they often describe strange and illogical tales. These are the dreams. This phase occupies 20% to 25% of total sleep. why do we dream psychology

For neuroscience, the possible cause of dreams is related to the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.

What are dreams?

Dreams are a universal human experience that can be described as a state of consciousness characterized by sensory, cognitive, and emotional events during sleep.

The person who is dreaming has less control over content, visual images, and memory activation.

There is no cognitive state that has been so studied and yet so misinterpreted, as dreams. why do we dream psychology

There are significant differences between the neuroscientific and psychoanalytic approaches to dream analysis.

Neuroscientists are interested in the structures involved in dream production, dream organization, and narrativity. But psychoanalysis focuses on the meaning of dreams and places them in the context of the story of the dreamer.

Dream reports tend to be filled with emotional and vivid experiences that contain themes, concerns, characters, and objects that are closely related to conscious life.

These elements create a new “reality” that seems to come out of nowhere, producing an experience with a realistic time frame and connections. why do we dream psychology


Nightmares are distressing dreams that cause the person who is dreaming to feel a series of disturbing emotions. Common reactions to a nightmare include fear and anxiety.

They can occur in both adults and children, and causes include:

  • stress
  • afraid
  • trauma
  • emotional difficulties
  • disease
  • use of certain medications or drugs

Lucid dreaming

In a lucid dream, the person who dreams is aware that he is dreaming. You can have some control over your sleep.

This control measure can vary in each lucid dream. They usually occur in the middle of a normal dream when the person who sleeps suddenly realizes that they are dreaming.

Some people experience lucid dreams randomly, while others have reported that they can increase their ability to control their dreams. why do we dream psychology

Try The Pillow That Works In Perfect Harmony

Self-dubbed “the greatest pillow ever invented,” the Purple Harmony Pillow is designed to cradle your neck, keep you cool and help you drift off to dreamland in no time.


What goes through our minds just before we fall asleep could affect the content of our dreams.

For example, during exam time, students may dream about the topic of one of their courses. People in a relationship can dream of their partner. Web developers could see the programming code. why do we dream psychology

These circumstantial observations suggest that elements of the everyday resurface in images during the transition from wakefulness to sleep.


Studies have examined the “characters” that appear in dream stories and how the dreamer identifies them.

A study of 320 adult dream stories found the following:

  • Forty-eight percent of the characters represented a person known to the person who dreams.
  • Thirty-five percent of the characters were identified by their social role (eg, a policeman) or by their relationship with the person they dreamed of (eg, a friend).
  • Sixteen percent were not recognized.

Among the characters they named:

  • Thirty-two percent were identified by appearance.
  • Twenty-one percent were identified by their behavior.
  • Forty-five percent were identified by his face.
  • Forty-four percent were identified as being “known” people.

Strange elements were reported in 14% of known and generic characters. why do we dream psychology

Another study investigated the relationship between dream emotion and dream character identification.

Affection and joy were commonly associated with familiar characters and were used to identify them, even when these emotional attributes were inconsistent with those in the waking state.

These findings suggest that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, associated with short-term memory, is less active in the brain during sleep than during conscious life, while the paleocortical and subcortical limbic areas are more active.

Memories why do we dream psychology

The concept of “repression” dates back to Freud. Freud argued that undesirable memories could be repressed in the mind. Dreams relieve repression by allowing these memories to reset. why do we dream psychology

One study showed that sleeping does not help people forget unwanted memories. Instead, REM sleep could even counteract the voluntary suppression of memories, making them more accessible.

Two types of temporary effects characterize the incorporation of memories in dreams: why do we dream psychology

  • the diurnal residue effect, which implies the immediate incorporation of events from the previous day
  • the sleep-delaying effect, which involves delayed additions of about a week ago

Findings from one study suggest that:

  • processing memories into dreams takes a cycle of around 7 days
  • these processes help promote the functions of socio-emotional adaptation and memory consolidation

“Dream-lag” effect (sleep delay)

The “dream-lag” effect refers to the images, experiences or people that arise in dreams that are images, experiences or people with whom you have had contact recently, perhaps the day before or a week before .

The idea is that certain types of experiences take a week to encode into long-term memory, and some of the images of the consolidation process will appear in a dream.

The events we experience while awake are said to appear in 1% to 2% of dream accounts, although 65% of dream accounts reflect aspects of recent conscious life experiences.

The “dream-lag” effect has been reported in dreams that occur in REM stage, but not in those that occur in stage 2.

Types of memory and dreams

Two types of memory can form the basis of a dream.

These are: why do we dream psychology

  • autobiographical memories or lasting memories about oneself
  • episodic memories, which are memories about specific episodes or events

A study that explored the different types of memory in the dream content of 32 participants found the following:

  • One dream (0.5%) contained an episodic memory.
  • Most of the dreams in the study (80%) contained low to moderate autobiographical memory embeddings.

Researchers suggest that memories of personal experiences are experienced fragmentary and selectively during dreams. The purpose could be to integrate these memories into enduring autobiographical memory. why do we dream psychology

A hypothesis that dreams reflect conscious life experiences is supported by studies investigating the dreams of psychiatric patients and patients with sleep disorders. Simply put, daytime symptoms and problems are reflected in dreams.

In 1900, Freud described a category of dreams known as “biographical dreams.” These reflect the historical experience of being an infant without the typical defensive role. Many authors agree that some traumatic dreams serve a recovery function.

One article hypothesizes that the main aspect of traumatic dreams is to communicate an experience that the person has in the dream, but that is not understood. This can help the person rebuild and accept a past trauma. why do we dream psychology

Thematic why do we dream psychology

Dream themes could be related to the suppression of unwanted thoughts and, as a result, a greater occurrence of that repressed thought in dreams.

Fifteen people with good sleep habits were asked to suppress an unwanted thought 5 minutes before sleeping.

The results show that there was an increase in dreams about unwanted thinking and a tendency to have more distressing dreams. They also imply that suppressing a thought can lead to a significant increase in symptoms of the mental disorder.

Research has indicated that external stimuli that occur during sleep can affect the emotional content of dreams.

For example, in one study, positive encouragement from roses produced dreams with more positive themes, while negative stimulation from rotten eggs produced dreams with more negative themes. why do we dream psychology

Typical dreams are defined as dreams similar to those reported by a high percentage of people who dream.

Until now, the frequencies of typical dream themes have been studied using questionnaires. These have indicated that the order of classification of 55 typical dream themes has remained stable in different populations.

Many people are familiar with certain topics, such as flying, falling, and being late.

The 55 themes identified are:

  • school, teachers and study
  • be chased
  • sexual experiences
  • falls
  • arrive too late
  • a living person who is dead
  • a dead person who is alive
  • fly or glide through the air
  • fail a test
  • be about to fall
  • freeze in fear
  • be physically attacked
  • be naked
  • eat delicious food
  • to swim
  • stay locked up
  • insects or spiders
  • be killed
  • lose teeth
  • being tied up, trapped, or unable to move
  • being dressed improperly
  • to be a child again
  • trying to complete a task without success
  • not being able to find the bathroom or embarrassed about having to use it
  • discover a new room in the house
  • have superior knowledge or mental abilities
  • lose control of a vehicle
  • fire
  • wild and violent beasts
  • see a face very closely
  • snakes
  • have magical powers
  • vividly feel, but not necessarily see or hear, a presence in the room
  • find money
  • floods or tidal waves
  • murder someone
  • look dead
  • being half awake and paralyzed in bed
  • people behaving in a threatening way
  • see your own reflection in a mirror
  • be a member of the opposite sex
  • being suffocated, unable to breathe
  • find god somehow
  • see a flying object collide
  • earthquakes
  • see an angel
  • creatures that are part animal, part human
  • tornadoes or high winds
  • To be in the cinema
  • see aliens
  • travel to another planet
  • be an animal
  • see a UFO
  • someone having an abortion
  • be an object

Some dream themes seem to change over time.

For example, from 1956 to 2000, there was an increase in the percentage of people who reported flying in their dreams. This could reflect the increase in air travel. why do we dream psychology

What is its meaning?

Relationships – Some have hypothesized that a typical set of dreams, including being a person in distress, falling, or being chased, is related to interpersonal conflict.

Sex concepts : Another group that includes flights, sexual experiences, finding money and eating delicious food is associated with libidinal and sexual motivations.

Fear of being embarrassed : A third group, which includes dreams of being naked, failing a test, being too late, losing teeth, and dressing inappropriately, is associated with social concerns and fear of embarrassment. why do we dream psychology

Brain activity and types of dreams

In neuroimaging technologies studies of brain activity during REM sleep, scientists found that the distribution of brain activity could also be related to specific characteristics of sleep.

Several strange features of normal dreams have similarities to well-known neuropsychological syndromes that occur after brain damage, such as delusional errors in identifying faces and places.

Dreams and senses why do we dream psychology

The dreams of people experiencing different types of headaches were evaluated. The results showed that people with migraine had a higher frequency of dreams related to taste and smell.

This may suggest that some brain structures, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus, are involved in migraine mechanisms, as well as sleep and dream biology.

Music in dreams is rarely studied in scientific literature. However, in a study of 35 professional musicians and 30 non-musicians, musicians experienced twice as many music dreams as non-musicians. why do we dream psychology

The frequency of musical dreams was related to the age of initiation of musical instruction, but not to the daily amount of musical activity. Almost half of the music remembered was non-standard, suggesting that original music can be created in dreams.

Pain why do we dream psychology 

It has been shown that it is possible to experience localized and realistic pain sensations in dreams, either through direct incorporation or from memories of pain. However, the frequency of painful dreams in healthy people is low.

In one study, 28 burn victims were interviewed for 5 consecutive mornings during their first week of hospitalization.

These were the results:

  • Thirty-nine percent of people reported dreams of pain.
  • Of those who experienced pain dreams, 30% of their total dreams were related to pain.
  • Patients with pain dreams showed evidence of reduced sleep, more nightmares, increased use of anxiolytic medications, and higher scores on the Impact of Events Scale.
  • Patients with pain dreams also had a tendency to report more severe pain during therapeutic procedures.

More than half did not report dreams of pain. However, these results could suggest that pain dreams occur more frequently in populations experiencing pain at the time than in normal volunteers. why do we dream psychology

Self awareness why do we dream psychology

A study has linked the activity of the frontotemporal gamma EEG with conscious perception in dreams.

The study found that current stimulation in the lower gamma band during REM sleep influences continuous brain activity and induces self-reflective awareness in dreams.

The researchers concluded that higher order consciousness is related to oscillations around 25 and 40 Hz.

Relations why do we dream psychology

Recent research has shown parallels between romantic attachment styles and the general content of dreams.

Results of an evaluation of 61 students in relationships of six months or more revealed a significant association between the security of attachment in a relationship and the degree to which dreams about romantic partners occur.

The findings illuminate our understanding of mental representations regarding specific attachment figures.

Death in dreams why do we dream psychology

Researchers compared the content of the dreams of different groups of people in a psychiatric facility. Participants in one group had been admitted after attempting to kill themselves.

The dreams of the participants in this group were compared with those of three control groups in the psychiatric center who had experienced: why do we dream psychology

  • depression and suicidal thoughts
  • depression without thinking about suicide
  • perform a violent act without suicide

People who had considered or attempted suicide or carried out violent acts were more likely to have dreams with content related to death and destructive violence. One factor that influenced this was the severity of each person’s depression.

Left and right side of the brain

The right and left hemispheres of the brain seem to contribute in different ways to the formation of a dream.

Researchers in one study concluded that the left hemisphere appears to provide the source of dreams, while the right hemisphere provides the liveliness, representation of reality, and level of affective sleep activation.

A study with teens ages 10 to 17 found that left-handers were more likely to experience lucid dreams and remember dreams within dreams.

Why do we forget dreams?

Studies of brain activity suggest that most people over the age of 10 dream 4-6 times each night, but some people hardly ever remember dreaming.

It is often said that 5 minutes after dreaming, people have forgotten 50% of the content, increasing to 90% another 5 minutes later. why do we dream psychology

Most dreams are completely forgotten when waking up, but it is not known precisely why it is so difficult to remember dreams.

Some steps that can help improve dream recall include:

  • wake up naturally and not with alarm
  • focus on sleep as much as possible upon waking
  • write as soon as possible about sleep upon waking
  • take note of dreams routinely

Who remembers their dreams?

There are factors that can influence who remembers your dreams, what part of the dream remains intact, and how vivid it is.

Age: Over time, a person is likely to experience changes in the timing, structure, and electroencephalographic (EEG) activity of their sleep. why do we dream psychology

Evidence suggests that dream recall progressively decreases from early adulthood, but not later in life. Dreams also become less intense. This evolution occurs more rapidly in men than in women, with gender differences regarding the content of dreams. why do we dream psychology

Gender: A study of the dreams of 108 men and 110 women found no difference between the amount of aggression, kindness, sexuality, male characters, weapons, or clothing that appear in content.

However, women’s dreams featured a greater number of family members, babies, children, and interiors than men’s.

Sleep Disorders : Dream recall increases in patients with insomnia, and their dreams reflect the stress associated with their condition. The dreams of people with narcolepsy can have a more strange and negative tone.

Memory of dreams and well-being

A study analyzed whether the memory and content of dreams reflect the social relationships of the person who is dreaming.

Volunteer college students were assessed for attachment measures, dream recall, dream content, and other psychological measures. why do we dream psychology

Participants who were rated “high” on an “insecure attachment” scale were more likely to:

  • report a dream
  • dream frequently
  • experience intense images that contextualize strong emotions in your dreams

Older volunteers whose attachment style was classified as “troubled” were more likely to:

  • report a dream
  • report your dreams with more words

Dream recall was lowest for the “avoidant” participants and highest for the “concerned” participants. why do we dream psychology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button