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17 facts about our dreams

Written By | Jan 30, 2014

WASHINGTON, January 30, 2013—Back in the early 1960s, the songwriting/singing sensation The Everly Brothers scored a major hit with a song that opened with the lyrics; “Dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, dream, dream.”  Listeners had a good clue as to the topic of the song.

The Everly Brothers certainly were not the first to put the mystery of dreams to music. Poets have been writing of this phenomenon since the dawn of time, not to mention the countless articles, therapies, books and discussions galore inspired by dreams.

So, what’s the story?

Vienna, Austria is known as “The City of Dreams” but not because it is a dreamy place to live or visit. Vienna is known as “The City of Dreams” because one of the fathers of psychology, Sigmund Freud, was the first in his profession to interpret dreams, and Vienna is where it all began.

Skipping the history of dream interpretation serves to bring modern science to the fore and to ignore the storied lore and bizarre notions of yesteryear. Yet, admittedly, modern psychology still reveres dreams as somewhat of a mystery.

Research into our dream state has shed significant light on the process of dreaming. There are several theories that explain the “when” and “how” of dreaming, but substantial research has yet to provide a deductive argument over “why.”

There are some interesting theories of the why, what and purpose of dreams resulting from a plethora of research and study.

The emotions experienced in a vivid dream can awaken and force the dreamer to deal with the residual unintended stress, anxiety and fear from the dream. Bad dreams are characterized by these features, and align with the theory that, in part, our dreams exemplify our fears.

For example, remember the youthful dream sequence of appearing in public naked or in your underwear? This was the result of self-consciousness experienced as a youth. As we age, our fear dreams relate to illness, death and loss, and in many cases, being chased by an evil entity. A dream interpreter may claim the entity is death itself.

Others may say the entity is an ex spouse seeking alimony. Regardless of what the dream means, sometimes bad and good dreams can set the emotional tone for the day.

Many people dream of unresolved issues in their lives. For example, the loss of a significant other, the early death of a loved one or broken friendships may remain on our minds. We dream of these topics because our brains are struggling to resolve these issues for us while we sleep, finding it too difficult to resolve them on the plane of consciousness.

Often, we think of someone from years gone by and suddenly they appear in a dream; or we may not think of someone and they appear anyway. Some researchers suggest something in the course of the day triggers a sub-conscious memory of someone even though we may not be aware of it. Our brain brings the sub-conscious memory to the forefront via dreaming.

Dreams seem disorganized, illogical, unreasonable and scattered. Since we cannot apply conscious thought and organization to a dream, the brain uses stored memories of our related thoughts and recognizes potential behaviors to create a collage.

Remembering dreams may be difficult because we dream in our deepest state of rapid eye movement or REM sleep. During REM sleep, dreams last from a few seconds to 20 minutes. Humans usually have different dreams about three to five times per sleep cycle. Our chances of recalling a dream are higher if we awaken during REM sleep or if we experience intense emotions in our dream.

Anyone who claims they do not dream is wrong. These individuals simply do not recall them or the dreams they have are insignificant.

Most of us dream in living color. According to research, those who claim their dreams are in black and white are usually of an age when TV and movies were only shown in black and white. Some studies suggest those who dream on a colorless mental canvass may lack imagination or think of life events in black and white.

Dreams can serve to showcase our desires and wishes, yet our primitive natures are profoundly addressed in the dream state as well. Fear, sex, and survival are recurring themes when we sleep. In fact, studies show all primates, dogs, cats, birds, rats, elephants and many other animals dream. It is thought they too dream of fear, sex and survival.

Apparently, animals tend to run in their dreams, hence the dog on the floor sound asleep yet legs are askew in motion.

We dream of whatever excites our senses, making dreams an individual experience. For this reason, the attempt to interpret them with a broad stroke is a waste of time.

If science can interpret a doggy dream that includes poochy losing the affection of a poodle, appearing in public furless, flying around the yard and being chased by evil vacuum cleaners, the battle of dream interpretation has been won.

Paul Mountjoy

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist and writer.